(Early) fun with Flames line combinations

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?

  • SickFloBro

    13 – 93 – 36

    79 – 23 – 10

    17 – 11 – 67

    18 – 25 – 39

    Give Tkachuk a game or two off to observe, like Stamkos and Gaudreau. Ferland up with Monahan for some toughness, and keep Versteeg there to help him get his game going.

    …as if I know what I’m doing, ha.

    • everton fc

      This may, indeed, be the way things turn out, if Tkachuk goes back to junior. But I like the idea of him playing with Backlund & Frolik for a bit. And Stajan has earned every minute he’s played, on the 4th line. Whether he on the LW, or pivot, he has value there, on that 4th line. But I wonder how Stajan would do on LW, w/Backlund and Frolik, leaving Bouma for 4th line duty, where he probably should be/LW.

      • SickFloBro

        I totally agree with Tkachuk being given a shot with Backlund and Frolik.

        And honestly, as tempting as it might be to stick Gaudreau with Bennett for a full game or two… I think you have to give him and Monahan a real shot at getting back on the same page.

        Knee-jerk reactions are rarely wise… with the obvious exception of fixing those D pairs from game 1. Maybe put Johnny and Bennett together on the odd shift to see what happens, but let 13 and 23 get their timing back.

    • FlamesFanOtherCity

      The lines make sense, but is Sam and Brouwer ready for 18+ minutes a night? I also think you would be better off playing Stajan on Backlund’s wing.

      13 – 93 – 36

      79 – 23 – 10

      18 – 11 – 67

      17 – 25 – 39

      Bouma is better off on the 4th line, where he can contribute without the added pressure of being the top shut down line. Stajan needs a swift kick. He has been good defensievly to start the season, but has hands of stone. Needs one of the Mickey’s to pot the goals.

      • everton fc

        I think “13-93-36” is indeed ready for 18+ minutes a game.

        In addition, Bennett and Brouwer play way more physical games than Monahan and Versteeg. This would give Johnny some more room (you’d imagine). I think teams are very focused on Gaudreau (obviously) and not so much w/Monahan and Versteeg. On a line w/Bennett and Brouwer, you’d have to keep a close eye on all three.

        Hope that made sense!

        Stajan-Backlund-Frolik would be a good line, me thinks.

        • FlamesFanOtherCity

          It’s an interesting proposition, but doubt it gets any traction this early. To give Tkachuk the full experience, I think you have to start him with Monahan at some point. Gives you similar grit as playing Ferland there. Ferland can go back to Backlund’s line.

          The practice lines haven’t changed much from day 1, except for Ferland getting bumped down in place of Bouma. Freddie doesn’t seem to get much consideration at this point, even though he had a good pre-season.

      • wot96

        He has been better than Monahan in an offensive capacity this season and driving play. Were he to play with Brouwer and Gaudreau, I see no reason why he couldn’t continue to do so as he would have the benefit of older, more seasoned, players to play with.

        It does look like Monahan may be hurt/still injured. Or maybe that’s what we tell ourselves to help us sleep at night after the contract he signed this summer. Either way, Bennett has been better and on merit he should be getting the better ozone starts.

        Backlund shouldn’t get the slot because providing offence isn’t his thing and he is valuable in a shutdown role. So…yeah, Bennett slots into the #1 centre position.

      • FlamesFanOtherCity

        Isn’t that exactly what they did with McDavid?

        Put another way, you could shelter the line all you wanted to. Give they prime O-zone starts. Keep them away from top defensive pairs.

        What it also does is blur the line between top lines. Makes it harder to defend against a line with a 78 point player and a line with a 64 point player.

  • PrabFlames

    My opinions on all the lines: (Tell me what you think, agree or disagree)

    Gaudreau-Monahan-Brouwer

    Tkachuk – Backlund – Frolik

    Ferland – Bennett – Versteeg

    Bouma – Stajan – Chiasson / F.Hamilton

    Giordano – Brodie

    Jokipakka – D.Hamilton

    Kulak – Engelland

    If necessary, rotate in Wideman for Engelland. And Gorssman plays no more games.

    Elliott

    Johnson

    PP1:
    Brouwer – Monahan – Gaudreau

    Hamilton – Brodie

    PP2:
    Tkachuk – Bennett – Backlund

    Kulak – Giordano

    PK1:
    Backlund – Frolik

    Giordano – Brodie

    PK2:
    Bennett – Brouwer

    Jokipakka – Kulak

    PK3:

    Stajan – Bouma

    Engelland – Hamilton

    PK4:

    Backlund

    Giordano – Brodie

    PK5:

    Stajan

    Jokipakka – Engelland

  • flames2015

    Agree, Stajan- Backlund – Frolik would be a good line. Stajan and Backlund have shown some good chemistry when they end up together. The last game against vancouver of last season is one instance that comes to mind for me.

  • Derzie

    I’ll leave the line making to the coaches and video-gamers. When the lines/pairings don’t make sense to the average joe fan like me, then it puts up red flags (see Grossmann – starting game 1). What I see is we have the Back-Fro pairing already clicking. 2 pairs on paper that will work soon (Brouwer/Sam, Johnny/Monny) and a whole bunch of spare parts. Chiasson has shown signs of life as has Stajan on the PK. No matter what the lineup, it’s up to the coaches to know if the line is broken or just needs time. I sure don’t know that.

  • Nick24

    Playing Sam with Gaudreau isn’t a slight to Monahan. It’s more that Sam is going to be the #1 center on the team sooner than later, so it makes sense to play him with the team’s #1 LW.

    Monahan and Gaudreau have worked well together, but pairing Bennett with Gaudreau would likely work better. It should take some of the offensive pressure off Gaudreau, as he would no longer be the single offensive catalyst the offense runs through. Teams can no longer isolate Gaudreau because Bennett could just as easily gain the zone and burn you. Putting Bennett and Gaudreau together should result in a more dynamic attack than we’re seeing now with Monahan.

  • Dan the flames fan

    I agree with thinking that Monohan is still injured, but I would start simple. Switch Chaisson and Brower. Let JH and Monohan have a couple more games before playing musical players. If they don’t produce, then move Bennett up, and Monohan down. The game against Vancouver showed me the defensive lineup we should be going with. Kulak played well and did the job he was supposed to. As a result, keep Kulak in, and rotate Wideman, Engglend, and Grossman through the #6 rhd position.

  • T&A4Flames

    I was going to put the same lines that PrabFlames did at 5vs5:
    Gaudreau-Monahan-Brouwer

    Ferland-Bennett-Versteeg

    Tkachuk-Backlund-Frolik

    Bouma-Stajan- Chiasson

    Everton also said: Stajan-Backlund-Frolik. This would be interesting as well as Stajan plays a D oriented game as well and they would be a strong shut down line. But the O may disappear completely with a descent finisher there.

  • Juan Valdez

    The Flames first line is too perimiter right now. There’s nobody standing in front of the net trying to deflect pucks, or screening the goaltender.

    Chiasson deserves a shot. He’s hard on the puck and has been very opportunistic thus far.

  • deantheraven

    They say that the people who say “Don’t Panic” are usually in a situation where they should panic.

    I say Bouma AND Stajan with Backlund & Frolik as the third. Though they’ll tend to see the toughest minutes there, I say they’re both responsible enough for that. Plus, if either (or both) can bet a Backlund Bump they’ll be looking good come Trade Deadline Day.
    Or maybe Shinkaruk replaces Tkachuk and shares the Bumps, and bumps Bouma and Stajan to lower minutes, and that’s not good for business… no, scratch that… Let him tear up the ‘A’ until after the deadline.

    Hey, or if Wideman could play the right side, maybe he could get a Bump too!
    ummm
    No, he should sit or be sent down. (I know, 5 mil)
    Kulak should play regularly instead of him taking up valuable oxygen in the defensive zone.
    ahem
    I think it might be worthwhile to put Kulak with Kevin. They both see well and can move with or without the puck. If sheltered a bit, they just might bring some secondary scoring to the defense.

    The top two pairs should be 3/4 Brodie, D Ham, and Giordano (in that order). I think you could slide Kevin in with Gio every now and then when you want to shelter Engelland and Kulak (or TSpoon).
    Or if they haven’t been able to talk Wideman around his NMC, play him with Giordano as the second pairing hoping he gets some kind of bump from Gio.

    That makes it
    Brodie/DHam
    Gio/Wideman (exhale!)
    Kulak or Tspoon w/ Kevin or Engelland (or something)

    That Gaudreau/Bennett/Brouwer line could work magic, and Ferland would do well with Monahan (and vice versa) with maybe Versteeg or Chiasson as a steadying veteran mentor-type guy.

    For the 4th line to tread water or better they’ll need to have their minutes managed. Guys like F Ham, Hathaway,Vey, maybe Poirer or Chiasson or can step into that slot and hurt the Flames, with any combination of them and/or Bouma and/or Stajan.

    So, Forward lines would be
    Gaudreau/Bennett/Brouwer
    Ferland/Monahan/Versteeg or Chiasson
    *Bouma or Stajan*/Backlund/Frolik
    *Bouma or FHam/Stajan*or FHam/Chiasson or Versteeg

    *(actual mileage may vary)*

    That was fun! Thanks, Ari!

  • dontcryWOLF88

    Weve been watching Gaudreau and Monahan play together for a while now. I am sure that chemistry didnt just vanish over summer. I am going to pin their situation right now to psychology. I think it was a chaotic pre-season for the flames, chaotic first three games, and I think their confidence is hurting. I dont think they lost their ability to play well together.

    I know this exercise here is just for fun, but just wanted to throw that in because it seems to me a lot of people are serious about wanting to break up the first line already.

    Remember how Getzlaf and Perry were doing almost half way into the season last year? Or Crosby? I remember having to look down the points leaders to somewhere south of 50 to find Crosby at mid-way through last season. Remind me how that finished for him?

    Up’s and down’s are what sports are all about. From my own experience with sports ive found that killer instinct for goals to be one of the hardest things to understand. Sometimes its there, and sometimes its not. For me, when its not there, something is generally up with my confidence. I start seeing the goalie, not the empty space at the back of the net. D ont ask me how to fix that problem, but I doubt tearing up the lines will help anybodies confidence.

  • dontcryWOLF88

    Just noticed that the Sharks just lost today. That means the Canucks are first in the Pacific now. Anybody want to bet me $100 thats not where they finish?

    Ducks also have 0-2-1 record right now btw.

    Thankfully, the season isnt decided in the first three games.

    • BlueMoonNigel

      At what point last season was it agreed upon that the Flames’ season had gone sideways? Yeah, the bad start in October was a massive hit, but it wasn’t the back-breaking straw.

      A replication of last season’s poor October should result in some rolling heads. Two stinkers in a row is completely unacceptable at the pro level.

      • jakethesnail

        “A replication of last season’s poor October should result in some rolling heads. Two stinkers in a row is completely unacceptable at the pro level.”

        I guess we will be saying Good-bye to oiler coach and GM this season!

  • Locker Room Talk

    Long time reader, first time commenter. Personally I think the top line should stay the way they are, 3 games seems way too soon to start throwing them into disarray. The already existing disarray of coming into a new season with a new player on the line, a new coaching staff, and none of the top line having played together in the preseason should be enough chaos to overcome. That said, it would be kinda fun to see Johnny with Bennett and Brouwer. But it honestly looked like Gaudreau was on the cusp last game, and once he gets going Monahan will follow (and hopefully Versteeg). There, that’s my attempt at optimism.

    • piscera.infada

      I agree completely.

      We consistently harped on Hartley’s inability to make adjustments, but as much as changing your lineup is important for success, the flip-side is that sometimes you have to leave things together and allow them time to get going. The first line has been consistently more dangerous game over game, and for that reason it’s important to let them start finding the net.

      The measure of good coaching with regard to lineup management is balance. We know that the Monahan-Gaudreau pairing has produced consistently for a substantial amount of time. They deserve the benefit of the doubt in that regard until such time as the prove they no longer have that ability.

  • JoelOttosJock

    Gaudreau Monahan Tkachuk
    Ferland Bennett Brouwer
    Bouma Backlund Versteeg
    Chaisson Janikowski Smith

    Giordano Jokkipaka
    Brodie Hamilton
    Kalak any pylon from practice

    * waive..trade or buy out Wideman..Stajan..and England and sign a solid 5/6 dman and 4th line center, my thoughts..not yours.