The season is young yet, but so far, the Flames’ new-look offence appears to be delivering. At 3.60 goals per game, they’re eighth in the NHL, and their worst performance so far is just two goals in their season opener. It isn’t perfect – but it’s a good start.
However, if you were asked to list the team’s lines, you’d probably have some problems doing just that. Elias Lindholm has been a fit with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, and the MMA line of Matthew Tkachuk, Mikael Backlund, and Austin Czarnik seems to have clicked, if not quite produced, but after that it’s… what?
Is James Neal playing with Derek Ryan and Dillon Dube, or are Sam Bennett and Backlund involved now? When the Flames needed to overcome a two-goal deficit against Colorado, Lindholm found himself with Dube and Czarnik, and Tkachuk was with Gaudreau and Monahan. And the fourth line has been a rotating cast of characters – everyone’s gotten at least a game in, and even a typically reliable veteran like Michael Frolik has found himself a healthy scratch already – which has amounted to a lot of confusion as to what the Flames’ forward lines actually are.
That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though. The entire point of overhauling the Flames’ forward group – signing three free agents, swapping Micheal Ferland for Lindholm, ditching Troy Brouwer and leaving a spot open for a prospect – was to not only increase scoring, but to give new head coach and noted line swapper Bill Peters a ton of options to play with. And so far, he’s taken full advantage of that, to success more often than not.
Through five games, at 5v5, Gaudreau, Monahan, and Lindholm have played nearly 44 minutes together. Following them is the MMA line, with a little over 28 minutes together.
After those two combinations, it gets a lot more smushed together. Dube, Ryan, and Neal have spent about 14 minutes together; Bennett, Dube, and Neal about 13 minutes together, and the same goes for Gaudreau, Monahan, and Neal. The sample sizes are all pretty small, but there isn’t really any example just yet of any line combination being particularly bad statistically, with the Backlund lines tending to have the top corsi (and goals) for ratings.
Which brings us to today’s question: would you continue to mix and match the Flames’ forward group, or try to keep lines together?
It appears as though Lindholm is sticking with Gaudreau and Monahan, but would you rather see Tkachuk get a longer spin with them? If Bennett needs Backlund to do well, would you keep him on a top six line, even though it would mean one of Lindholm, Tkachuk, or Neal would have to play on a third line? Does Frolik or Czarnik work better with Backlund and Tkachuk, or should a higher caliber winger be there for the long haul?
Or does none of it matter, line chemistry is overrated, and the Flames should continue changing and challenging lines on a whim: because, with nearly exclusively functional skaters and endless possibilities, that’s what gives them the best chance to win night in, night out?
What would you do?