We’re now three games into the Flames’ season. They have not necessarily gone optimally. A part of that has been the defence, and a part of that is the fact that it has been inconsistent, lineup-wise. Just four members of the Flames’ eight defencemen have played all three games: Mark Giordano, T.J. Brodie, Dougie Hamilton, and Deryk Engelland. Two have played only two games: Jyrki Jokipakka and Dennis Wideman. Two have only played one game each: Brett Kulak and Nicklas Grossmann.
After three games, we appear to be at a more satisfactory lineup than what the Flames started the season with. Brodie and Giordano have been reunited, the younger members of the group are all playing, and Engelland fills out the rest by being the best of the remaining three.
Something that hasn’t changed much, though, are the forwards. The lineups looked pretty satisfactory to start with: each line appeared balanced, and all four of them had guys who could play a regular shift with no problems.
But they haven’t been scoring all that much, is the thing.
There are plenty of justifications for that, namely: the top line has played all of three games together, and had one preseason game between the three of them. If they get a little more time together, it’s possible they figure it out, and the scoring will go up. It definitely looks like they’re starting to get there.
But it’s an off day, so let’s play panic mode and rearrange the forward lineup, just for fun.
This is the base we have to start with:
Gaudreau – Monahan – Versteeg
Tkachuk – Bennett – Brouwer
Bouma – Backlund – Frolik
Ferland – Hamilton/Stajan – Chiasson
In theory, those lines could work out just fine. They do, however, highlight how thin the depth on this group is; for them to produce properly, everything has to go right for the fringe players in the lineup, and that has not yet been the case. (Probably won’t be, if we’re being honest with ourselves; when does everything ever go right all at once?)
Sam Bennett’s line looked great in the preseason, but Matthew Tkachuk hasn’t looked quite up to speed since the regular games got started. For that matter, everyone on the top line appears to be a bit behind as well, though you can see Johnny Gaudreau on the verge of getting there.
So, just spitballing here, but if lines and pairings had to be broken up, what would you say to a Gaudreau – Bennett – Brouwer line? Bennett is budding with potential, and while Troy Brouwer has been off to a solid start, a Gaudreau who’s starting to kick things into gear could be the last piece needed to really get things going.
Where does that leave Sean Monahan? The Flames could try shifting Tkachuk onto his line, or maybe reunite him with Micheal Ferland – but have Ferland play his natural left side this time, instead. Maybe a Ferland – Monahan – Versteeg line could be in store – or maybe Alex Chiasson could work his way up the lineup? In this scenario, rearranging the lines does ultimately leave Monahan with the short end of the stick, though.
Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik aren’t getting broken up. Nah. They’re the only pairing on this team that has had it going since day one. But we could harken back to the days of the Bennett – Backlund – Frolik line by giving them a new talented rookie to work with: say, Tkachuk? And, if Tkachuk doesn’t stay past nine games and Hunter Shinkaruk ends up replacing him (which I can see happening), then maybe Shinkaruk – Backlund – Frolik is in store for the future? We know there are much worse ways to introduce rookies to the league, plus this would allow Shinkaruk to continue playing on his left side.
Lance Bouma and Matt Stajan should be fourth liners for default, which would leave any mix of right wingers who could mesh with them, providing competent depth play. Kris Versteeg, if he doesn’t kick it into gear; Chiasson, if the Flames like him on the fourth line; Freddie Hamilton, if he’s going to get in a game at any point.
Am I expecting any of these changes to happen? Not really, and I don’t necessarily think they need to. Not at this point in time, anyway. But it’s something fun to think about in the meantime – especially because, without a Brandon Bollig in the lineup, you have a group of players that, while not the strongest, can all actually play a regular shift.
If the Flames continue to stall, what new line combinations would you like to see?