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Brown, Dowd, and Setoguchi: The Most Interesting Third Line in Hockey

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Three unlikely contributors with three tumultuous backstories, and they’ve proven to be pretty effective.

NHL: Calgary Flames at Los Angeles Kings Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Kings have had a rough season so far, beset by injuries, offensive struggles, and an inability to win in regulation. There has been a silver lining, though: as Darryl Sutter has scrambled to put together winning lineups, he’s stumbled upon a pretty good third line. Dustin Brown, Nic Dowd, and Devin Setoguchi have clicked, and even given additional responsibility with Anze Kopitar and Marian Gaborik injured, they’ve largely thrived.

Thanks to Corsica.Hockey, we can compare their contributions not just to their teammates, but to the rest of the NHL. The trio is one of only 24 forward combos with over 100 minutes of 5v5 play under their belt. Looking at the top 50 trios — a set of players that includes a lot more top-six players than it does bottom-six players — Dowd, Brown, and Setoguchi hold up quite well.

All ranks are out of the 50 most frequently-used line combinations in the NHL.
Minutes: 101:34 (23rd)
Corsi For%: 53.5% (21st)
Fenwick For%: 56.7% (9th)
Shots For%: 57.1% (13th)
Scoring Chance For%: 65.5% (4th)
Expected Goals For%: 60.0% (8th)
Goals For%: 50% (34th)

Their only problem? When they’re on the ice, LA is putting up an .889 save percentage, which means the trio’s +/- has taken a hit. (Most of that happened in one game against Colorado, too.) Over time, that should improve simply with average goaltending behind them, even if they aren’t as strong defensively as the other Kings’ lines. Plus, they’re more than making up for it with their offense. When the Brown-Dowd-Setoguchi line is on the ice, the Kings are getting an astonishing 65.5% of the scoring chances. As a team, they’re only getting 49.1% of the scoring chances. THAT is why they look so dangerous so often.

How has this affected the rest of the lineup? As it turns out, the trio with the 50th-most minutes played at 5v5 is... Kyle Clifford, Nick Shore, and Trevor Lewis. Those three are putting up a 60% Corsi For and have only allowed one goal in 77 minutes. Shore, overall, has had a considerably worse season when it comes to possession numbers, but when skating with Trevor Lewis, he’s been every bit the shutdown guy LA’s expected him to be. Shore’s no longer the third line center of the future, and thanks to Dowd’s emergence, that’s fine!

The Kings often talk about finding “pairs” on offense, and if they can regularly slot Kopitar-Gaborik, Carter-Toffoli, Dowd-Brown, and Shore-Lewis, they’ll be in great shape. (And when Anze Kopitar and Marian Gaborik return to full health, the Kings are going to be looking at some tough decisions with guys like Teddy Purcell, Andy Andreoff, and Jordan Nolan.)

All this would be great enough for LA without taking into account the backstory of each player. Let’s review:

  • the left wing used to be captain of this team. Then he put up three full seasons of 27, 27, and 28 points, and the Kings only won a single playoff game in the last two seasons, and his C was taken away. After an offseason of wondering how he’d respond, and with the expectation that he’d end up in Las Vegas or on the trade block within a year, Dustin Brown is on pace for 37 points.
  • the center is a 26-year-old who was picked in the seventh round of the 2009 NHL Draft and is finally getting his shot. He played five games last year without scoring a single point, was scratched on Opening Night, and was a -2 while playing just nine minutes in his first game this season. Since then, Nic Dowd has scored ten points in 17 games, he’s shown natural offensive instincts consistently, and he’s scored the Kings’ prettiest goal of the season.
  • the right wing scored a goal on March 1, 2014 for the Winnipeg Jets. For the next two years, he played hockey in Calgary, Adirondack, and Davos, Switzerland, all the while fighting a battle with substance abuse. He had to convince an old teammate (Rob Blake, current assistant GM) that he still had some game left, just to get a professional tryout agreement to be able to skate at camp. Without a suspension to Tanner Pearson at the end of the preseason, there might not have been a top-9 spot for him to skate in. And after all that, all Devin Setoguchi has done is put up a 56.6% Corsi For% while scoring at a higher rate than he did in his last full season in the NHL.

Given Darryl Sutter’s propensity to change line combinations, it’s unlikely that this trio will survive to 2017. Let’s enjoy it while it’s here, though. Soon,