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WWYDW: Continue shuffling the Flames’ forward lines?

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?

  • Fat Tony

    Gaudreau – Monahan – Tkachuk
    Bennett – Backlund – Neal
    Dube – Lindholm – Czarnik
    Ryan – Jankowski – Frolik

    Id like to see some extended minutes with this group. Just out of curiosity.

    • Longshot1977

      I don’t mind those lines, but I’d like to keep Lindholm top 6, and I don’t mind if Neal slides to the 3rd.
      Can Czarnik or Neal play the left side?

      …Holy crap…the Flames’ right side depth is good enough that I’m actually speculating on moving players to their off wing on the left.

      As an aside, I have a feeling that Ryan won’t be put on a wing.

    • Hockeysense9393

      Hmmm not sure about this line combination. At first glance it looks to be ok…but digging deeper? You have Tkachuk, Neal, Frolik, and Ryan all playing their off-wing. Your 3rd line has 3 potential centres that can take faceoffs…so that may be a waste of potential.

      • flames2015

        @ Long shot. Ryan played the last game on the wing.

        Hockeysense – Neal & Frolik are listed as LWs but they can and have been playing RWs. The team is loaded with natural centres. 2nd line would have 2, and 4th would have 2. So don’t see 3 centres on the 3rd as an issue.

        • Ian Munro

          The problem with 3 centers on 3rd line is that there is only one center on 1st line. They need puck possession to stay in the OZone. Lindholm is a face off beast and really helps them be dangerous.

        • Hockeysense9393

          I get the thinking to a point for sure. My thinking is that the 1st line has no centre for the right-side faceoffs? That’s a lot of faceoffs not taken on a certain strong side (if needed) with a line that starts in the offensive zone a lot. The same can be said for the second line (both left-handed) taking a lot of defensive zone starts. Then putting 3 centres on a lesser line to go against lesser competition…sure. But then it leaves the other lines with less of a chance to succeed off the get go (faceoff). I just think lines with left and right centres are ideal. That way you can still start a faceoff with a natural LW on the left, in those faceoffs…and start those same players on the RW on the other faceoffs, because they know how to play their off-wing. I think that’s why the Flames are really trying to produce a line like Bennett-Backlund-Czarnik, because then there will be a faceoff start on the strong side, and still a backup if the centre is thrown out. The top line is screwed if Monahan is thrown out…and that’s why Lindholm is perfect for that line. He’s great on faceoffs and obviously has the skill to keep up with those 2. There is nothing wrong with putting Neal on the 3rd line to shore up scoring stability. A good example is Pittsburgh with Kessel playing the 3rd line a lot. Also in that situation you can easily play Neal on the left or right depending on faceoffs. You can’t do that with a second line with 2 left handed faceoff guys. Dube-Ryan-Neal would be a great compliment for that line. Depending on the faceoff, you can put Dube at centre and switch Neal and Ryan to their strong wings.

      • Fat Tony

        The fact is we have 7 or 8 natural centers in our 12 man forward group. Lindholm can absolutely center his own line but I am with everyone else in saying that having him on the top line has brought us nothing but good things. I am basing these combinations on some of the things we seen in Denver. Lindholm center a 2nd line in between Bennett and Neal would be interesting to see as well, i just don’t want to negate Tkachuk playing on the top line. One of the best lines in hockey will be on the ice against the Flames tonight and Id like to see Rebar fight fire with fire and have Chucky go up against Marchand.

    • flames2015

      I was thinking this exact line up, if changes were needed or offense gets stagnant with our current line up. I like Lindholm on the first line too, but he’s definitely good enough to drive his own line if needed.

  • Ian Munro

    Well ain’t this the favourite game of our community! Design your own lines!
    I’m not going to do that as it isn’t my thing.

    Personally I like Blender Bill’s approach. If we have as much talent as we seem to and for whatever reason aren’t playing well then giving the lines a spin seems like a great ideal. I do like the ideas of duos as well, but with as much flexibility as we now have I think it’s okay to split up even hardened duos like Johnny and Mony temporarily to get things going (yes Skylar I am coming around). All that said I think it remains important that we have lines we tend to go back to regularly as I believe in the chemistry that develops over time. Start there and move away when the team needs a charge put into them.

  • MDG1600

    I like the blender and think it helps coach reward the players who are working on any given night. Frolik your having an off night with Backs – welcome to the 4th line. Bennett is flying and he gets bumped up to the 2nd or 3rd line. If Monys line isn’t clicking try swapping Byng and Lindholm. In the long run these guys are all playing the same system and should be able to move around. Come playoff time it is important to be able move players around to avoid unfavourable matchups in a long series.

    • Jessemadnote

      Good call, I also like because theoretically players should more adapatable or ready to go when it comes to injury. Also if we get matched up against Winnipeg or San Jose in a playoff series, we’ll have a high functioning shut down line, if it’s a team like Anaheim, we can roll four high octane offensive lines and hopefully overwhelm John Gibson. I just hope Peters gives lines a bit of time to develop chemistry and doesn’t break them up if they’re running hot.

  • freethe flames

    I like that BP is juggling his lines trying to find the right chemistry but the other question for me is trying to find the right role for each line and for each player. So far we have seen Ryan on the second PP unit; is he really the best fit there? It’s only been 5 games but I see Lindholm as a guy who can fix any line? He can score, he can check, he can skate and he can take face offs; but where is he the best fit. Neal; so far he has had 1 good game and maybe now is starting to get his game into gear. Again I am a big believer in having 4 lines with distinct roles; two that are primarily offensive but can hold their own defensively and two that are primarily defensive but can create offense and help change possession. So another question is Backlund better used as your second offensive center or as your best defensive center?

    • FlamesFanOtherCity

      That’s the “problem” with having too many guys that are really top 6 players. Can’t give them all 15 minutes or more. If you staple Neal to Backlund and Tkachuk, you increase the goal scoring ability, but lesson the defensive ability. If you play Neal on the top line, you have more options with the 2nd and 3rd line. Tkachuk is always playing with Backlund, which sometimes lowers his scoring threat. Do we always want Tkachuk playing defensively? Start in the D-zone all the time?

      I would prefer to see a pure defensive line built. Put Tkachuk, Neal, Bennett and Lindholm in spots that they will generate offense.

    • Jumping Jack Flash

      We should not be surprised that the new coach is experimenting…we should have been concerned that the old coach lacked the foresight to experiment. The 3M line was one of the best in the league last year so it only makes sense the play against the top line in the league.

      I am a wee bit concerned with Ras’s foot speed against a team with speedy players like Marchand, Pastranuck, and Debrusk. I am a big Ras fan but his timing has to be spot on for the rest of his game to excel. He looks much better with a mobile seasoned partner like Hanifin. I want to see Ras take more shots, not many other players can boast a 105 mph snapshot. At least get the Bruins to be on their toes.

  • Sven

    Loved the look of Lindholm with Gaudreau and Monahan

    but the numbers aren’t there

    still only 5 games in but they currently sit as the 25th most productive line in the league at 5 on 5

    delivering around 37% of Calgarys 5 on 5 goals –
    and taking around 46% of the Flames shots

    while being outscored ….

    all of these metrics place them at the bottom of the top 25 units ranked this season to date

    maybe it’s worth bumping Tkachuk up for a spell

  • BendingCorners

    My head is spinning. So many good forwards we can’t figure out what to do with them all. Tonight should be fun. I wonder which line BP will use against the Bergeron line?

  • Al Rain

    New coach, new players, new teammates. I expect that this is all part of the plan to see where chemistry can be found. Add to that the flexibility it gives in the event of later season injuries and it’s all good. The fact that the team is playing well while they’re sorting it out is bonus.

    If we were seeing the opposite – Peters settling on lines early – we’d all be questioning if he was doing his job.

  • withachance

    JG – Monny – Tkachuk (primary offensive line, with Chucky complimenting with physicality)
    Bennett – Lindholm – Neal (Secondary offensive line, with grit and defensive acumen – crash and bang line)
    Dube – Backlund – Czarnik (Primary defensive line with lots of speed, giving Dube the Backlund bump)
    Frolik – Janko – Ryan (Secondary defensive line smart fourth line)

    The thing I love about this lineup is that there’s two centres on every line (bar the first line) and is very blender-able in game for BP to make adjustments. Thoughts?

  • Off the wall

    Our 1st line may be scoring goals, however it’s not a true indicator they are doing well.
    5 on 5 they are not getting it done. Against Boston we’ll get crushed, if Rebar doesn’t change it up.

    Something like,
    Gaudreau- Lindholm- Tkachuk (skill and defensively more capable)
    Bennett- Monahan- Neal ( heavy line)
    Dube- Backlund- Czarnik (fast with skill – I still think Backs should be our 3C)
    Frolik- Ryan – Jankowski (defensively responsible)

    I know many of you are going to scoff at this. That’s fair.
    I just think it makes us harder to match up. 3 skilled lines that can provide offence.
    I know this doesn’t look good for Jankowski, however if he can be reliable on the 4th line, while taking less responsibility as a center, it might get him going.

    I do like the way Rebar is going about this.He’s juggling until he finds the best combinations.

    Might be worth a shot to try the above?

    • Jumping Jack Flash

      You can always find shortcomings in line combinations. My concern with the second line would be lack of speed and defensive coverage with Monny and Neal. I don’t love the fourth line because I think Janko brings more than this but if he has to be stapled to the 4th line I would rather they continue to develop him as center. I just see Staal/Johannson type potential.

      I have often wondered how Janko would do on the wing, he is decent but not great on the boards. If his role was to just worry about crashing the net and getting his release off quickly we may be pleasantly surprised.

      • Jumping Jack Flash

        That really is the key. It looks like NJ has figured this out as well. Hall is off to a slow start yet the team is undefeated. For, the team to contend the stars need better defensive awareness and all 4 lines need to be able to take over a game at any given time. Oh and timely goaltending would be nice as well.

  • herringchoker

    Fellas, I’m loving the lineups.

    Here’s my crack at it running 4 lines all night with a slight bump to the better lines.

    Gaudreau-Monahan-Neal
    Bennett-Lindholm-Tkachuk
    Janko-Backlund-Czarnik
    Frolik-Dube-Ryan

    The BLT line is exciting to me. The one player if he finally breaks out that will be the biggest potential game changer to this team is Bennett. You got to build on his momentum and feed the confidence fire. That line could be scary good. Not to mention a goalies worst nightmare. You could easily flip Tkachuk and Neal and still end up the same. I think getting Janko out of center for a while as he develops would be good. He could use a bit of a Backlund bump.

    • Bretrocks12

      REALLY like this idea. However, I would make a slight alteration –

      Gaudreau-Monahan-Neal = Could be God-like in offensive prowess

      Bennett-Lindholm-Tkachuk = Lindy and Chucky could help improve Bennett’s confidence, making him finally
      play like a 4th overall pick and not a 4th rounder.

      Dube-Backlund-Czarnik = This is where I would make the first change. I think that playing Dube and Czarnik
      alongside Backlund could help improve their development.

      Frolik-Janko-Ryan = This could be a great shutdown line that can put up the points if needed.

    • Porcupine at a balloon party

      Love the top 6 there. In bottom 6 I would probably move Dube to wing, I haven’t been overly impressed with him as a centre and his faceoff % is pretty bad (think its around 25%). Would probably swap Jank and Dube in that. Possibly move Frolik to Backlunds LW. Regardless, I do like any setup that still keeps Backlund with good linemates while moving him to the “checking” centre as opposed to “2nd scoring” centre

  • Brian McGrattan's Salute

    JG-SM-Lindy
    Benny-Backs-Neal
    Chucks-Janko-Czarnik
    Frolik-Ryan-Dube

    First line is first line, tho I understand the criticism against their 5v5 play mentioned above. Not sure what to do there–hoping they just get it going.

    Second line has looked good previously, and hopefully this line will click.

    Having Chuck on the third line sucks, but he’s proven that he can play anywhere and succeed. Hopefully he and Janko can rip it up. I could totally see that. Plug Czar or someone there and see who can compliment them best.

    Forth line defensive and responsible. Dube learns from vets.

    That’s the best I got! This game is hard, and likely fruitless anyways lol.

    Really excited for when lines start to stick. I’ve no issue with switching them up like this in the short term, but I think chemistry and at least a smaller parameter of like possibilities is important to effectiveness. Playing with randomish lines every night would get exhausting I imagine.

  • The Fall

    I don’t see it as a blender, a reward for good play, or a search for chemistry. BP is shifting lines based on situational circumstances within the game and the locker room. I like it; it feels more advanced than simply running out the same traditional combinations. Its more strategic: like football.

    • Al Rain

      You could be onto something with this. Lines that change with circumstances, different deployments against different opponents, flexibility for injury situations. We have the roster for it. The announcers would still call it the line blender but we would know better. I would love for this to be true.

      • The Fall

        Exactly:
        You need a goal late in the game — Neal moves up with Johnny and Sean.
        You play the Bruins — reunite 3M.
        You notice a slow D man cheating on draws — put Linda on the ice to win the draw and Czar on the wing to skate past everyone.
        You want to see awesome fun toughness — put Matty and Neal on a line…

        • Jumping Jack Flash

          Makes sense but let’s not forget, it was Lindholm that tied the game against Colorado coming off the bench. It is hard to keep Johnny and Monny on the bench when you need a goal but I don’t recall them having much success when the goalie is pulled. Neither player is great at winning the board battles so perhaps that is where you look at Bennett and of course Tkachuk. Neal should win board battles but he tries to shield the puck and gets it poked of his stick. I wonder if BP would use Johnnie on the PK if he needed a goal…he is not always engaged defensively but I bet if you threw him a bone he would bust his ass. I remember him begging Hartley to get PK time.

    • Porcupine at a balloon party

      Agreed. This doesn’t feel like a blender. The line changes have been quite methodic and strategical from what I’m seeing. It’s also not like each shift is a different line combo either. Usually it’s just a couple tactical changes based on how the game is going and the opponent.

  • PhillyWerg

    JG – Monahan – Tkachuk
    Bennett – Backs – Neal
    Dube – Lindholm – Czarnik
    Frolik – Janko – Ryan

    Gio – Brodie
    Hanifin – Ras
    Valimaki – Stone

  • Skylardog

    Its good to see I am slowly winning many of you over. You all must be crazier than I am. Seeing JG and Mony split, Backs on the third line in some of the posts. Have to say, this is a fun group of forwards to play this game with.

    Getting minutes to everyone is the hard part. Lets assume 3 PP and 2 PKs per game as a rough normal estimate, meaning 50 minutes of 5v5. Break down the time like this
    1st – 14 minutes
    2nd – 14 minutes
    3rd – 12 minutes
    4th – 10 minutes

    PP and PK bump the key guys up to roughly 17 minutes per game. This will go a long way in ensuring guys are still able to go by game 70. Give forwards 20 minutes or more and we are burning them out.

    This also means that really we have 1a and 1b, not 1 and 2. Line 3 is defensive, and gets most defensive starts when possible, usually against the best line on the other team.

    1a Gaudreau-Janko-Neal (2 guys that can put the puck in the net with the best playmaker)
    1b Tkachuk-Monahan-Lindholm (Some grit, a sniper, and a playmaker that is showing some sniper capability)
    3 Bennett-Backlund-Frolik (Defensive responsibilities, hopefully some scoring)
    4. Dube-Ryan-with Hath or Czar.

    Allow Czar to move up with Backs and Bennett if you need a goal. Czar started strong in my eyes, but isn’t really accomplishing much, including when on the PP. The shine is beginning to tarnish. Czar, Frolik, and Hath are the 3 candidates to sit at this point (1 of them along with Peluso).

    PP1
    JG-Mony-Tkachuk-Lindholm-Gio – Its been working, but needs to be more consistent.
    PP2
    Neal-Janko-Czar-Hanifin and either Ras or Vali. If no Czar, use Bennett.

    PK Guys
    Backs-Fro
    Bennett-Hath
    Ryan-Dube

    If Hath is in. If not, use Lindholm or Janko in Haths spot. Both appear capable.

    • Porcupine at a balloon party

      Agreed on not burning guys out. 20+ minutes is not sustainable. I’m still quite skeptical about splitting up Johnahan. I’m not against trying it, but I’m skeptical on it working. I also see a few better options for creating a second scoring line that moves Backs to a 3rd line checking role, which I think is essentially the main goal if you’re to swap 13&23

    • Jumping Jack Flash

      This is the line up I would like to see with a slight change by swapping Tkachuk and Neal. I have exhausted my views on giving Janko a shot on the top line. He seems to have his best shifts with either Tkachuk or Johnny…so just imagine what he could go with both.

      As I type this I realize that all 3 are primarily playmakers despite Janko’s disproportionate goal to assist ratio. I believe Johnny had 8 shots last game and only scored on his last one. Most of the leagues top 10 players would finish at a higher rate. Tkachuk does not have many holes in his game but he is not a shooter. Janko can be a shooter but would likely spend the shifts looking to set up his linemates when he likely would have the best shot on that line. I would still like to see it.

  • MWflames

    I think lines are getting close, no need to do anything crazy. But i’d bump Neal up to line #2 to give that line some more finish. The 3M line just doesn’t have that much goal scoring with backlund and frolik.

    Jonny – Monny – Lindholm
    Tkatchuk – Backlund – Neal
    Bennett – Jankowski – Czarnik
    Frolik – Ryan – Hathaway

    You lean heavily on your top 6 here which has your best talent.

    No dube? Nah, I’d support a trip to stockton to get some professional polish to his game. a 20 to 30 game stint at 18 minutes a night would be good for him to mature his game a bit. As the season goes on and injuries set in, he’ll be a great call-up for the playoff push.

    For the sake of having some fun, i’d give these lines a try with an emphasis on creating a match-up problem for opposing teams your top 6 could look like this:

    Tkatchuk – Monny – Neal
    Gaudreau – Backlund – Lindholm

      • Porcupine at a balloon party

        I would like to see him in Stockton to work on his game as a centre. He’s struggled there imo. If nothing else he needs to work on faceoffs, but I think he’s having issues with playing the position at this level. Not to take away from him as a player. He’s played great as a wing, had a great pre season and hasn’t looked out of place overall. But totally agree some seasoning might be just what he needs

  • Hockeysense9393

    Gaudreau-Monahan-Lindholm
    Bennett/Tkachuk -Backlund-Czarnik
    Dube/Bennett-Ryan-Neal
    Frolik/Dube-Jankowski-Frolik/whomever

    Tkachuk is the ultimate rover that would strengthen every line he happens to be put on. Change him out whenever (LW/RW) to keep the other team guessing. I would even shorten the forward bench to give them more ice time across the board. Ride with 7 defenceman, especially when Hamonic comes back (example Tampa Bay).

  • Skylardog

    It is tough to put things together as the lines are so blendered that it is tough to follow. But here is what Peters “normal” lines are doing so far.
    Lets assume these are the lines, here are the stats.
    JG-Mony-Lind = 43.7 TOI, 3 GF 5 GA
    Tkachuk-Backs-Fro or Czar = 34.81 TOI, 1GF, 0GA
    Dube-Ryan-Neal = 14.18 TOI, 0 GF 0GA
    Bennett-Janko-Someone = 11.06? TOI, 0 GF 1 GA

    Overall the set lines are 4 GF, 6 GA. 103.75 TOI, This translates into 2.31 GF/60 and 3.47 GA/60

    As a whole, 5v5, the Flames are 9 GF, 10 GA in 218.55

    That means the blendered lines are 114.8 TOI, 5GF, 4 GA for a 2.61 GF/60 and a 2.03 GA/60

    No, 5v5 this team is not doing well with the regular lines. The bottom 9 have only 1 GF, with 1 against. Love the GA, the GF is not even remotely acceptable.

    To make matters worse, the top line is running a deficit.

    This may show you why I am so big on a massive readjustment at the approach the team is taking. We have one line scoring, that is worse than last year. We have 3 lines playing good defense. Good, but lets spread that all around.

    We have to look at who can put the puck in the net. Many of the guys we have, just can’t do that. Ask yourself who can. Put them with a playmaker.

    For reference, JG-Mony-and Tkachuk are 0GF and 1GA. Not indicative of what could be expected, but Neal with Jg and Mony are 1Gf and 1GA. There has to be a better combination than the first line giving up 6.86 GA/60.

  • JoelOttosJock

    After watching the first few games and seeing the chemistry with the Flames so far, I would try something like this

    Gaudreau Lindholm Monahan
    Czarnik Bennett Tkchuck
    Dube Backlund Neal
    Hathaway Janko Ryan

  • Skylardog

    Wanted to post this on the Pre Game page, but it isn’t up yet. I am out now until after the game. PVR is set.

    The Bruins are experts at exploiting weakness. Last year, they focused on Kulak, put it in his corner all night. He had 2 rough games.

    Tonight it will be hard on the D with 2 raw youngsters in the lineup. They will exploit Ras and Vali. If they have rough games, let it go. It will be a good learning experience. I am hoping they can hold their own.

    The problem is that if you go to 4 D, that still leaves Hani with Stone. Now the Bruins expose Stone and rip him apart.

    Boston may be the best at strategic attacks.

    With that in mind, look for Bergeron’s line up against the Monahan line, but only when Gio and Brodie are NOT on the ice. When it is Mony and the top pair, they will play shut down and use someone other than Bergeron’s line.

    This is good test for this team. Let’s see what we have.

    GFG

  • Bretrocks12

    Johnny Gaudreau – Sean Monahan – Elias Lindholm

    Matthew Tkachuk – Mikael Backlund – James Neal

    Sam Bennett – Mark Jankowski – Austin Czarnik

    Dillon Dube – Derek Ryan – Michael Frolik

  • Cheeky

    In a way I like the fact BP will change up what’s not working. Yes chemistry is nice but sometimes you need a spark to get guys going. I too would like to see how Monny and Johnny would fair apart (will this spread out the offense or collapse like breaking up the 3M line did – oh wait the sky didn’t fall…). Nation, don’t read too much into line numberings, lines 1 and 4 are what they are but 2 and 3 are interchangeable. Let’s try this:

    Johnny-Monny-Lindholm
    Tkachuk-Janko-Neal
    Benny-Backs-Czarnik
    Dube-Ryan-Frolik