When the Dallas Stars put the eponymous Fak 'Em line together, uniting the services of Ales Hemsky, Radek Faksa and Antoine Roussel, it seemed like an odd fit on paper. You had a promising rookie center with the most enigmatic player on the team as well as the one most likely to end up spouting profanity in multiple languages.
But the three incredibly disparate players have melded their collective strengths into a heck of a third line, one that deservedly picked up the game winning goal in the Stars 4-0 Game 1 victory over the Minnesota Wild on Thursday night.
Before we get to figuring out how the third line really highlighted the difference in construction between the two rosters, let's all appreciate Radek Faksa's goal again, shall we?
This deserves a video breakdown in the future because there's a lot of good going on here from the forwards (not the least of which is Roussel's urgency with the line change, Jamie Benn's patience jumping on and Hemsky's great neutral zone pick). But when the Stars are successful, it's because they win the possession game when it matters, and the third line was the epitome of that last night and has been over recent games.
Ever since being put together in early March (it's hard to say when the genesis was, but the even-strength minutes indicate they were together for about the final 15-20 games of the regular season), the Roussel-Faksa-Hemsky trio has been an asset to the Stars possession and goal scoring while taking relatively tough zone starts, a Czeching third line if you will.
For those who have not seen Micah's graphs before, the higher on the picture, the fewer chances allowed and the further to the right, the more chances generated. I've highlighted the current third line, since it's kind of hidden behind some things:
Like the rest of the Stars when the team is playing well, the Fak'Em line is Good and Fun.
So how has this collection of seemingly disparate players come together into something seemingly greater than the sum of its parts? Maybe breaking down the individual components will give us a clue.
To start with, there's the Stars most irritating cat owner, Antoine Roussel. He provides the traditional "energy" for the group through both ferocious speed on the forecheck, net-front presence, and, well, things like this.
Roussel gets up and dusts himself off pic.twitter.com/Buf1QSl5z9— Stephanie (@myregularface) April 15, 2016
What's interesting about Roussel's presence in this trio is that he's been a part of checking lines in the past that were much more feast-or-famine, most notably the Roussel-Cody Eakin-Ryan Garbutt trio of a few years back and the relatively short lived (and unsuccessful) Roussel-Eakin-Colton Sceviour unit earlier this year. He can play too fast for his own good sometimes, but that hasn't been as much of a problem.
Part of that is due to the older-than-his-age presence of Faksa, a rookie who has settled into the center's role rather nicely over the past 6-8 weeks. He also is a strong forechecker, but his strength is board battles and lane reads rather than Roussel's boundless enthusiasm. He tends to be a north-south player along with Roussel, which provides very direct transition attack. Combine that with a streaky goal-scoring ability that is currently set to "on," and those two make some sense together.
I'm not sure Ales Hemsky and north-south player have ever been in the same sentence together, and indeed the veteran Czech is the player for whom the word enigmatic was seemingly invented. Hemsky can turn apparent sure things into puzzling misses but also makes plays so glorious and subtle you go back and watch it 19 times on replay to understand the full mastery. His chemistry with Faksa makes a certain amount of sense - they are both Czech, after all, and it gives Hemsky the opportunity to directly mentor the rookie (and perhaps communicate with him on the ice). But how he and Roussel became complimentary wingers to each other is one of life's bigger mysteries.
No matter how it works, there is no denying that the Fak'Em trio gives the Stars a whole other dimension.
Since the March 6 win at the Ottawa Senators, Hemsky has put up 4 goals and 11 assists for 15 points in 16 games, Roussel has three goals and four assists (and many angry opponents), and Faksa has four goals and two assists. That's 11 goals and 17 assists from the "third" line in 16 games, including seven goals and 11 assists at even strength. On the even-strength possession side, all three have positive possession numbers (52.8 CF% from Faksa, 53.4 from Roussel and a whopping 56.3 percent from Hemsky) with all having significantly more starts in the defensive zone.
It's very solid solid production any way you slice it, especially considering their tougher defensive usage.And that ability to create from depth players is what sets the Stars apart from the Wild, as well as many others.
Sure, the pointy-headed spear of the offense are the highly compensated set of Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Patrick Sharp and Jason Spezza. But their ability to turn defense into offense, and their roster construction with scoring skill virtually all over the lineup, makes every unit a scoring threat. There are only so many defensive forwards and shut-down pairs other teams can throw at the third and fourth lines, so when they have the ability to push the offense up the ice, it creates significant matchup issues.
That will only be more important as the series moves on the road next week. Teams will continue to line-match against any trio featuring Benn or Spezza, so the damage done by the Fak'Em trio will be invaluable to creating offensive separation.
It's a great luxury to have, one that may make absolutely zero sense on paper but is chemistry in motion on the ice.