First off a notice: Sadly won't be at the game tonight; and neither will number 2 so there will be no game report against Anaheim. I'd love to tell you what they team is going to do and whether these new lines we have will last more than a period but I honestly don't know anymore.
I'd frankly be starting Deslauriers in goal tonight though. The other two seem to have had their confidence and the team just drop away from them and look utterly lost. I don't think either has been managed well this year and I don't believe there's a lot of disagreement with that sentiment.
Let's take a closer look at these new lines though and try to figure out exactly what's going on:
As it seems is always the case when Craig MacTavish makes an inter-game line shuffle; I reacted with bewilderment and horror generally. I'm quite willing to accept that this is because we have a very different take on winning hockey games, but still sometimes what this guy can do with the roster we have just stuns me.
It stinks to have Pisani out and that's for certain. Not having his Mr. Reliable to throw into various situations destroys MacTavish's world like just about nothing else. I find this incredibly odd. The thing about a guy like Fernando should be that you can throw him just about anywhere and that gives you all kinds of flexibility to the point where he's one of your last concerns. Without him, things should actually get simpler in my view, not more complicated.
Now how Jason Strudwick manages to effectively take Pisani's spot in the lineup I have no idea. It truly does not make sense to me. I guess Craig just loves having him on the bench to throw out there all night and does whatever it takes to get him there.
Looking at the Strudwick-Brodziak-Stortini line; I think what I always think whenever I see any line on my team and that's this: outside of if the plan is to only play these guys LITERALLY 2 minutes a game, who's going to put the puck in the net? I don't mean a dynamic crazy goal-scoring machine; I mean if there's a chance or a break or a bounce, who's going to score? I believe in having one of this type of guy on every single line of your hockey team. At least one. Ideally at least 2 until we get to the fourth line. This line therefore is totally out in my opinion. Neither wing man is a consistent good hitter and therefore their only real value is dumping the puck, fights, and the occasional big hit. Since these hits almost never come on the opposition's important players, this is effective useless. There is a massive difference between a line like the one above and say something like Neil-Brodziak-Laperriere, where there are guys who could actually score, hit consistently, draw penalties (one of the most overlooked attributes out there) and fight as well when needed. Our fourth line is a sad attempt at a line like the one I just came up with and nothing else.
Moving to the third line: I understand and have no real problem with Gagner moving down right now (as you'll see in my lines later). He dragged Nilsson and Cogliano through the floor last game when they were going early and has just had nothing so many times this year that I'm not willing to keep throwing him out there. I know he's been playing tougher people this year and I know he's going to get through this but we can't afford to have him doing it on a line that needs to supply our secondary scoring. So we've got Moreau-Gagner-Penner. It meets the guys who can score criteria, but I don't really see a passer-shooter arrangement here. This appears to be an attempt at a defensive line with two offensive players. Moreau will muck and grind and dig pucks and take long-ish shots but he's got no one to drive the net with him. Gagner this year has been most effective passing on the rush. When he sets up to pass in the zone he's gotten flustered and turned the puck over. Both of the guys he's playing with do not score off the rush; they're down low guys. Penner could be a good passer for this line but seems to have forgotten how to do so. His noted success on the top line seems disregarded (though I'm sure he'll still be on the PP). I don't see how this line either generates offence or secures the D-zone. I'm sure MacTavish will be relying on Penner as backup faceoff guy, or hoping Gagner will learn quickly but I don't see how these guys will be effective. What kind of game would they play? They're not a dump-and-chase line, not a rush line, not a cycle line, and not an anything line really. What are they going to do in either end of the ice? No one to take advantage of Gagner's neutral zone excellence, no one to utilize Penner's positioning and size, and no one to get set up for Moreau.
The second line could have been very interesting. Horcoff and Cole (despite his utter ineptitude this year) may very well be an interesting combo. They both skate really well, can play a crash-rush style and score from in close, and they're not going to have any issues in their own end. Both are also decent in the corners which means there's no real need for Marc Pouliot (who's best when he's utilized in the corners) on this line; UNLESS they're trying to get Cole to go to the front of the net and put the puck in the net like I think they should. I don't believe that's what's happening. What will happen is that Horcoff and Cole will charge into the corners and get Pouliot the puck, who will hit the goalie's chest/pads and then the play will end. I like that Horcoff could focus on his role as a passer here (I believe he's better when this is his primary role) but again I see no reason to take him away from the successful top line. Shakeup for the sake of shakeup is done by trades, releases and call-ups, not line changing. As for Cole, I'm just going to lower my expectations through the floor and hope he beats them because this is just getting sad for a guy who was counted on for 60 points this year. Pouliot's in over his head and should probably never see the top 6 on this squad. Especially playing left wing without a scorer. If we had someone who was great at getting set in the low slot and scoring; I'd play Marc with that guy because Pouliot could get him the puck a lot of the time. Fact is though, he's not a second-line player right now.
Moving to the first line; sure they certainly have potential. Nilsson and Cogliano have played alright recently (especially Andrew) and they could very well put up some points. I don't mind mixing Cogliano and Hemsky because I think their games could play well off each other (though Cogliano isn't skilled enough to score directly from Hemsky as much as we need he can get open to take advantage of skilled passes out of the zone which is something Hemsky can't do playing with Horcoff and Penner), I do mind Nilsson being there as I just don't think he's enough of a scorer to be slotted where he is. He fills enough of a Hemsky-ish role with other guys and that should determine his placing right now. This line should fair best, though I just don't know if they can roll at even strength being that we need Hemsky on the ice for a serious amount of minutes every night. Hopefully he gets double-shifted a fair bit.
Now, on to what I propose:
I don't actually like this line very much but they get results so I certainly can't propose to mess with it. If they had ANY secondary scoring support their results would be even better. Hemsky stirs the drink and the other two manage to capitalize often enough that they're worth it on this line, so not a whole lot to talk about here. These guys are playing BIG minutes, but Penner will get tired. When he tires I propose to move Moreau into the LW slot for some defensive shifts and any of Cole/Cogliano/Nilsson up for offensive shifts. I'm a big proponent of a reasonably permanent base of lines with flexibility built in for situational play.
This line is defensively responsible enough; yet has a guy who could score at any time he's on the ice. An offensively-oriented guy is just what Moreau and Brodziak need to get their offensive games going. Both are perfectly capable in the offensive zone and do a good job of gaining entry when given the opportunity. Nilsson's defensive play is good enough when balanced with the other two that there is not any need to worry. The stability and positional skill of the other two players will allow Robert to use his speed more effectively in all zones. Nilsson can buzz around in the slot areas and make passes from the high boards while Moreau and Brodziak focus down low. On the rush the line isn't the greatest; but if Moreau is given the puck down the left wing with adequate time; the play to the net for Nilsson with a Brodziak follow-up could bring them success.
Yes I called Schremp back up; so sue me. He should be here. He was good enough and this "needs to be top-six" stuff is utter BS. As is the idea that "keeping up" speed-wise is the most important aspect on a line like this. That is flatly wrong. Having the skill to utilize speed players and find them when they're open; in addition to properly attacking in layers is actually what's important. This line works because it can do that. I like this as an attacking line because of its versatility. On the rush; any player could lead and you get a different look to each. With Rob leading; he gains entry and can either make a move and look for the pass to two layers of speeding wingers or rip the slapper. Cogliano leading the rush forces the D to back way up to respect his speed. This opens the top layer for Cole and Schremp to get into shooting position. Cogliano can either burn the D and get a chance to be followed up or or set up shop low and find a good shooter in good position. Cole leading the rush is likely going to result in a net drive that brings the D to him and opens up his wings. If Erik knows that he has two capable men playing with him and keeps his head up, these passes and or the chaos he creates would result in all kinds of offensive chances. In the defensive zone they aren't great, though again Cole can use his physicality and Cogliano his speed to create problems for the other team's offence. Robbie showed better skill defending low than he did high so I may actually have him pursuing the puck more down low; but that would come with experience of the line. I really like what this line COULD be.
And here's my fourth line. I quite obviously take a different approach to fourth lines than most. Gagner needs some time away from the havoc of tough 5-on-5 to get his head back on straight in the offensive zone before he jumps back in later in the year as I would propose he do. Brule was just fine and he can be physical and draw penalties as well as possibly pick up on Gagner. Pouliot is in his proper slot with two offensively capable guys to dish to. This line exists not only as a line in itself (that won't get a lot of minutes) but a reserve of players to shoot in and out of other lines depending on what you need. The likelihood of seeing Gagner take Horcoff's place after a PK is already high as we've seen this year. I like operating my fourth forward unit this way. On nights when distinct toughness is required, you play Stortini for any of the guys on that line.
On the PP I roll with:
I've changed around Souray and Visnovsky because I like the shots Visnovsky takes better on the PP than Souray most nights. Cole's only job is to stand in the slot area and wait for pucks. Schremp could re-discover his shooting ability in this role and also allow Hemsky to play lower occasionally which would give him an advantage in being able to move around and use locations like behind the net more often. I'd also like to get Gagner out with Hemsky more often because they work so well on the PP.
On the PK:
I'm all for getting Souray off the PK and giving him more 5-on-5 minutes. He's looked horrid and done nothing but stood around lately on the PK. I'm also wanting to give Ales the time on the PK, along with Cole because I think both have the skill and timing to make a big difference out there.
And when Steve Mac and Fernando are back?
With Ales double-shifting on the fourth line about half the time and Moreau flipping for Nilsson at times as well.