Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry have been together like bread and jam ever since arriving in the Anaheim Ducks' organization with the 19th and 28th picks in the NHL's 2003 entry draft. They were linemates on the last two Canadian men's Olympic championship teams, and also on the Ducks' Stanley Cup-winning squad in 2007.
Except for the time Getzlaf missed with injuries, they also played together in 2011 when Perry won the Hart Trophy as the NHL's most valuable player, and then again in 2014, when Getzlaf was the runner-up to Sidney Crosby for the same award.
In short, they have been largely inseparable for the better part of a decade, and whenever coaches did try to play them apart, the moves failed disastrously. Until this year, that is, when Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau, in an attempt to create greater scoring balance on a team that could not buy a goal in the first half, split them up again.
This time, curiously, it took.
Getzlaf has been thriving, playing on a line with newcomer David Perron, while Perry has found a new play-making centre in Rickard Rakell. The results have been absolute magic for the Ducks, who went into Monday's game against the league-leading Washington Capitals on an extraordinary 18-1-1 run that has catapulted them to the top of the Pacific Division.
On Christmas Day, the Ducks were last in the Pacific and second-last over all in the NHL, and there was much speculation about Boudreau's future as the Ducks' coach. Since then, the Ducks have gone from worst to first, a 25-4-2 run, which included the 11-game win streak that they were riding going into the game against the Capitals Monday night – a much-anticipated match-up between the NHL's No. 1 team and its hottest team.
"Before Perron was here, we had the one offensive line and the three checking lines," Boudreau explained. "When he got here, that allowed us to have two offensive lines. And because of our lack of scoring at the time, we wanted to make sure we had at least two that can score. Then it just kept working."
Indeed, the Ducks were so bad offensively in the first half, they managed just 76 goals in their first 41 games, a 1.85-a-game average. In the 23 games since then, they've scored 85 for a 3.70 average, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. It's a remarkable and almost unprecedented turnaround.
Getzlaf, meanwhile, found his confidence around the net after a mystifying scoring slump that saw him produce just three goals in his first 44 games. His fourth goal of the season, in his 45th game, Feb. 4 against the Los Angeles Kings, was the first he managed at even strength with a goalie in the net.
But from there, he has enjoyed a complete about-face and finished February as one of the NHL's players of the month.
When asked what changed for him, Getzlaf answered: "Our whole team turned it around. A lot of my success comes from our team's success. When our team is playing well, we tend to capitalize on things.
"The first half of the year, we got some things out of the way that were house-keeping issues, issues with our game, those sorts of things – and it helped turn the whole thing around and maybe take some things off my plate, take some pressure off, I don't know. But our whole group has been able to do that, and I'm part of the group."
Since general manager Bob Murray brought in Perron (from Pittsburgh) and Jamie McGinn (Buffalo), the pieces have clicked into place like a completed Rubik's Cube puzzle. According to Getzlaf, the reason the line-switch is working this time around has a lot to do with Rakell's readiness to play a top-six role.
"This is the first time we've had that other centreman who's been ready to play that kind of a game," Getzlaf said. "You're talking about putting Perrs with someone who can get him the puck on time and when he needs it. That makes a big difference."
Getzlaf and Perry still play together on the Ducks' first power-play unit, which is on an epic 19-for-43 roll.
"Those are pretty crazy numbers," Boudreau said. "When you have 19 power-play goals in 11 games, that's almost two a game – and you only need one more to win the game. That's what we've been doing, and hopefully, that doesn't stop."