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WWYDW: Top line’s still slumping and might be broken up. What are your forward line combinations?

As the Flames should be looking forward to a division title – and, with it, home ice advantage and presumably an easier path through the playoffs – they’re once again faced with a problem that has seemed to be plaguing them for a couple of months now: the top line is out of sync, and it needs to get going, by any means necessary.

Is it out of sync due to the players simply regressing (in part from career-high shooting percentages), or due to injury? If it’s the latter, it’ll be some time before we know, and there isn’t really much to be done about it at all. If it’s the former, though, then there may be hope yet: and the current solution appears to be shaking up the lines to a substantial degree.

Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and Elias Lindholm have played 789:55 minutes together at 5v5 this season: easily the Flames’ most frequently seen together trio. It’s paid off, as well, as Gaudreau has 92 points this season, Lindholm 77, and Monahan 76: all career highs, and by a fair bit at that. While it once looked as though all three players would end the season with far higher point totals, things appear to have dried up following the all-star and five-day breaks at the end of January.

Via Natural Stat Trick:

Oct.-Jan. Feb.-March
P/60 iCF/60 iHDCF/60 SH% P/60 iCF/60 iHDCF/60 SH%
Gaudreau 3.10 15.34 4.16 15.00 2.06 15.51 3.17 6.78
Monahan 2.65 13.42 4.06 14.00 1.89 12.08 3.59 9.09
Lindholm 2.12 10.36 3.48 12.86 2.18 10.74 2.55 11.76

Lindholm seems to have been the least affected by the post-break slump, while Gaudreau and Monahan have taken more substantial hits, mostly across the board (Gaudreau’s individual corsi for being the lone exception). What’s universal among all three players, though, is their individual high-danger corsi events for has dropped by a lot – even though for the Flames, as a team, it’s actually gone up (from 10.95 HDCF/60 from October to January, to 12.34 from February to March).

Though the Flames have more than adequate depth, they’re still a top-heavy team, and if they want to see success this postseason, they’ll need their top forwards scoring the way they were to start the season. Some of that they may not be able to get back – Monahan is now at roughly his career average shooting percentage, and Gaudreau is much closer to his – but putting themselves back in prime position to score could be a feasible fix for the trio.

Which brings us to the what would you do part of it all: how would you get them back on track?

Keeping them playing together apparently isn’t working, one game against the lottery-bound Devils aside, so whatever chemistry they formed over the first half of the season hasn’t quite transferred over to this time of the year. Then, there’s Bill Peters’ possible solution, linked to above, in which all three forwards are set to play on completely different lines.

Derek Ryan has appeared to be something of a fit with Gaudreau, as evidenced by his filling in on the top line when Monahan was out, while Frolik remains a capable two-way player in his own right. Lindholm makes sense alongside Mikael Backlund and Matthew Tkachuk: all three are defensively strong with scoring talent. Monahan alongside James Neal provides a sniper’s line, rounded out by another top nine forward; albeit a line that might be slow and would likely need the high ground when it comes to offensive zone starts.

Would you go with Peters’ line combinations from Tuesday’s practice, or come up with new ones of your own? What if Neal had Gaudreau feeding him? Could Frolik bring further responsibility to a Monahan line? What if Backlund – the only other Flame outside of the big five within distance of scoring 50 points this year – had an increased offensive presence?

Or should the Flames stick with the same old same old line combinations, either because surely they’re bound to click eventually (maybe once the playoffs start they’ll ramp up again with a new sense of urgency?), or because maybe there’s an injury and there’s no use in fighting it, anyway (or maybe that’s all the more reason to give someone less ice time, even if they’re healthy enough to play in the playoffs)?

And with Neal back in the lineup, Sam Bennett on the verge of returning once again, and Austin Czarnik having had a good stretch since he drew back in as a regular, which forward do you sit? It’s entirely possible all three dress as well, and someone not yet mentioned – possibly from the former Stockton Heat line – finds themselves on the outside looking in instead.

How would you arrange the Flames’ lines going forward through the last six games of the regular season? What would you do?



  • withachance

    In other news, Fox is committed to Harvard for his last year and likely not going to sign with Carolina. Looks like BT was right and the kid has his heart set on NYR – how funny would it be as a plot twist if Fox signs with the Flames at the end of next season as the 3RHD behind Ras and Hamonic

  • Skylardog

    JG-Zib-Neal
    Tkachuk-Mony-Lind
    Dube-Backs-Fro
    Mangi-Ryan-Hath

    Oh wait. We stood pat at the deadline…
    Funny how fixing your top six always makes your top 12 better.

    I know – Where did Benny go?

  • The Red Knight

    This is good , Peters needs to know what options he has for playoffs matchups etc. Ryan and Frolik have been playing very well and consistent since allstar break , Jankowski has been flat and playing small for awhile now time for him to pick up the pace . When Bennett returns , maybe a line of Mangiapane Monahan Bennett
    Neal Jankowski Hathaway,
    Czar is the spare .

  • Skylardog

    Ok – A bit more serious now. Neal has 4 games to earn a spot on night 1 in the playoffs. Let me tell you how I think that will go.

    JG-Ryan-Lind
    Tkachuk-Mony-Mangi
    Dube-Backs-Fro
    Benny-Janko-Hath

    Benny and Dube could flip.

    Next up are Quine, Lazar, Czar.

    • withachance

      Not saying Dube is a worse player than Neal, but no chance. Sorry but you think coaching and management are going to sub in a rookie with less than 25 games for Neal who has more playoff goals than that?

      Would take massive cojones for that to happen – no management team in the league would do that move.

      • Skylardog

        It shouldn’t take cojones to ice the best 12 available players in a playoff game. Neal is not one of them. It is time they admitted this is where we are at, this season. I hope he can come back next year and earn a spot. I don’t think the fire is in him anymore to put in the work needed.

        The problem is, the Flames won’t sit him.

        What really concerns me, is we aren’t even getting a hint of what Neal should be able to do. We don’t have even single goal games for him where you go, “That’s the guy we knew he could be.” Instead, when he does score, it goes off his leg when a shot misses the net and deflects off of him. Has he sniped any more than one all season? Give me just one 2 goal game, or a 2 goal in 3 goal run. Hasn’t happened.

        Guys that are made for playoff hockey on this team that we will not see a single game this playoff season barring major injuries.

        Dube and Lazar. Both have speed, hustle, can backcheck, and play the body. Not top 6 guys, but guys that make it hard to play against in a big game. That’s why we all want Benny in the lineup – right?

        Guys that will struggle and play.
        Janko and Czar. Either not intense, or unable to play a physical game.

        • withachance

          Look I’m not disagreeing – Dube and Lazar are definitely more of the prototypical NHL player today. Neal has not been the perennial 20 goal scorer, and for sure cant name a breakout game (although can name a couple games where the puck luck against him is hilariously bad). Janko and Czar are much more likely to sit, but how much of an improvement would that be…

          I’m just saying most NHL management teams will need a lot of coaxing to take a guy thats been to 2 straight cup finals out of the playoff lineup for players who havent played in the NHL in months. Im sorry thats just being realistic. We as fans dont face the media pressure they do on a daily basis. If Dube puts up a stinker in the playoffs, the storyline becomes “why did you sit Neal who is a playoff stud for a rookie”, from both the media and the fans

          Just trying to put some perspective here.

          • Beer League Coach

            If Neal ever was a stud it was at least a year ago. Stop living in the past. What has he done for us since he signed his bloated (both $$$ and term) contract? You dance with the one who brung ya. And that excludes Neal.

          • withachance

            Hey all im saying is look at it in the perspectives of the management and coaching staff.

            If Neal is sat for someone who doesnt contribute in playoffs, I really hope there are no comments here saying “we shouldve played Neal he is a playoff performer”

        • Justthateasy

          I think Neal should be playing end and guard. End of the bench and guard of the water. He has not shown anything. A younger faster more hungry player, anybody, would be better.
          As far as Monahan goes, his release has died. He thrives on quick release from the slot. He is the sniper on that team.
          Keep the Heat line together above all. They are just starting to get used to each other and play like a unit.
          And for chrissakes, would somebody shoot from the point. Either shoot at somebody’s stick or into the crowd in front of the net and not into the glove of the goalie. Just shoot. That’s where money’s release should come into play.

        • Hockeysense9393

          Neil is coming off back to back Stanley Cup Finals with 2 different teams. I think that grants him the benefit of the doubt over a rookie who played 20 or so games. For the time being of course.

          • Albertabeef

            Exactly. Right now the whole team is just going through the motions till game #1 of the playoffs. I’m waiting till our playoffs are over to make a final judgement on his first season. His history gives him one more season to get back to where he was. If next season is garbage he needs to part ways and walk from his contract. Not sure how it works but both team and player can agree to terminate a contract. Not that it happens a whole lot, but it’s the classy thing to do.

          • Albertabeef

            I’d also like to see the NHL come up with a “Contract restructure” clause in the next CBA. Other sports have it, in a CBA world it’s needed. Limit one player per season or similar to buy out clauses, perhaps through arbitration. If Neal where only getting 3.5mil we would not be so upset and everyone would be more patient. A restructure would fix that.

    • Avalain

      I would love to see Dube back up, but seriously he could take some time to really start to show at the NHL level. Personally, I feel like we only see Dube in the playoffs if we have injuries or we’re losing the series and desperate. I’d rather neither of those things happen, so I’d rather not see Dube in the playoffs this year.

      Why do you have Monahan on the 2nd line? Do you seriously think that he’s a good choice for a shutdown center? The absolute best result is if Monahan gets out of his own head and earns his spot back on the 1st line. The next best option is to drop him down to the 3rd and give him a little bit more high ground. The worst option is to put him in a shutdown line.

  • redwhiteblack

    Monny looks the same as he did towards the end last year, so to me that equals he is injured again. Why play him at all if so. And if confirmed what does that mean for his career and this team. He is so “Monny” when rolling. He has not been rolling for months now. I hope it is just a funk. If it is not this team is likely not going far.

    Johnny looks off also. Add the fact he tends to get more invisible in playoff type games when the middle of the ice is much harder to get to. At any rate that line is average at best right now and it needs to be elite again for any chance at a run, never mind a cup.

  • FlamesFanOtherCity

    For one game, I would go with the following:
    JH-Lindholm-Neal
    3M
    Bennett-Monahan-Ryan
    Mangiapane-Janko-Hathaway

    Putting Neal on with Lindy and JH gives you a few more actual one-timer chances. 3M doesn’t get disrupted. Monahan has Ryan to cover faceoffs and Bennett to take the heat. 4th line is the old Stockton line, and Mangiapane can play with Janko as easily as Ryan. Shelter the 1st and 3rd lines as much as you can to get guys open ice. Bennett can be the netfront guy instead of Monahan.

      • Jessemadnote

        This is my favorite lineup so far. I’m not too worried about splitting the fourth line as it’s not likely they continue producing like this for the forseeable future. Mang-Janko-Hath is also the Stockton 1st line from a few years back

    • Skylardog

      If Neal can’t get going on that line, there is no hope for him.
      An easy flip would be to use Janko on the third line and keep Ryan with Mangi and Hath.

    • Avalain

      That would be interesting. I think if we were going to try something like that I would actually put Ryan back and move Jankowski to the wing. That will leave the 4th line together and realistically I think Ryan is more valuable at center than Jankowski is.

      • Justthateasy

        Whatever the combos the Flames had better bring their work boots tonight. I guarantee you Dallas will be playing it close and tight and it will be a playoff game.

  • withachance

    Have no idea with the lineup situation, but as someone else posted yesterday, this coaching staff is one we should trust in. Ryan yesterday talked about how BP is not afraid to shuffle the deck, WHEN NEEDED. He persisted with the top line for a month through their struggles. They were on and off, and seeing that it is time for a change, switched it up at practice.

    Whatever he comes up with, pretty confident that BP is the right guy to make the right decisions.

  • BrennyBaller

    I’d try Johnny-Ryan-Neal. Johnny is an elite playmaker, and Ryan is no slouch at setting up plays as well. He is also defensively responsible, which is a reason I think BP has been hesistant to put Johnny-Mony-Neal out for extended times as none of them are overly defensive, and can almost all be liabilities. I think JG-Doc-Neal could be a neat line and possibly help Neal get going.

  • SgtRoadBlock

    jonny,Ghost,Neal
    Matty,Back,Lindholm
    Fro,Janko,Czar
    Mang,Ryan,hath

    Lines we see at warm up

    Peters seems scared to do big line change to test other, maybe next Seasons

  • Skylardog

    The one thing we all need to see this playoff run is Johnny and Mony running up some points at 5v5. Two season ago, they did not get a single point at 5v5 against Anaheim. JG had just 2 PP points in 4 games.

    If these guys can’t put up at least 0.75 points per game at 5v5, THERE IS NO WINDOW. The top guys have to put up 30 plus points in a 4 round cup run. That breaks down to about 7-8 points per round minimum. At 6 games, that means 4 5v5 points, and 3 to 4 PP points. Zero will not cut it. If you win in 4, then you should still see 7-8 points because it was domination.

    • The Red Knight

      Mony did have 4 goals in 4 games , hopefully he continues where they left off, definitely try to give Neal, Mangy,Czar lots of icetime the final few games here .

  • Raffydog

    The Flames are small, soft, and slow. Every team in the conference must be salavating at the opportunity to get the Flames in the first round. Easiest path to advance for whomever they play.

    • The Red Knight

      You forgot to mention Flames skill and depth , I really doubt other teams want to play Flames in the first round. We will see if they rise to the occasion, Backlund has been playing feisty and he’s been looking like a top centre here lately, the Rookies are making an impact and keep getting better, as some have slumped of late others have excelled, Flames have home ice and are at no.1 in the west for a reason.there Elite !bring on the playoffs!

      • Raffydog

        Skill and depth? The Flames have neither. They have a useless top line, a garbage second line, no third line, and a pretty good fourth line. Not going far with a lineup like that.

    • MDG1600

      Raffy – I get what your saying and the solution to that is that THE FLAMES REALLY NEED TO GET THE PP CRANKED UP for the playoffs. They have been good at drawing penalties all year and if they can make the other team nervous about taking penalties it will even things up. Of course a lot depends on how the refs call the games.

      • Avalain

        I kinda disagree with this. You can’t put your chance to win a game in the playoffs in the hands of the refs (and in the hands of the other teams ability to play without taking penalties). I still think that the PP has to improve again, but mostly because it stops the other team from taking liberties with our team. It makes them toe the line a little more carefully if a penalty is going to cost them.

        • Cfan in Van

          That’s perhaps the most blatantly false thing you’ve said here, so mark me as impressed. You set a high (low?) bar for yourself. If that’s what you truly think, you’re either not watching the games, or you’re completely ignoring the opposing team. “Me, no I don’t watch the games, I just stress out about it and post on FN”.

        • The Red Knight

          Your kidding, Flames strength is its team skating, might not be the fastest, they control games for the most part and the only time I seen them get outplayed was one game against Pittsburgh and one vs Tampa , other than that Flames have been consistent at our shooting,chancing etc 90% of the season, on what basis do you figure Flames are the underdogs?

  • BendingCorners

    It’s a contact sport. Getting points is harder this time of year and requires initiating contact inside the other team’s defensive box. Hopefully BP’s shakeup works and the top players start doing that. If not, the Flames need to call up some fast skaters that will, and put them in the top six to help the shy ones.

  • cjc

    As Peters said, you can always go back to what has worked. I think the big concern should be the listless powerplay. Fix that and a lot of these problems look less glaring.

    Gaudreau-Ryan-Tkachuk
    Mangiapane-Backlund-Lindholm
    Bennett-Monahan-Frolik
    Neal-Jankowski-Hathaway

    Czarnik

    I’d like to see Mangiapane in the Top 6. He has earned it with recent play. Ryan and Tkachuk have shown some chemistry with Gaudreau at other times. I’m not too concerned about making Neal work right now. He hasn’t been a factor all season, but the team has done fine without him. I could see Jankowski getting benched instead of Czarnik. Aside from that shortie, he has been a non-factor for the last month. In which case Lindholm could center Gaudreau and Ryan the fourth line. The other X-factor is whether Dube gets called up, in which case he could slot in on the 4th line. It’s nice to have depth.

  • Clayton

    Gaudreau – Ryan – Mangi
    Tkachuk – Backlund – Bennett
    Neal – Czarnik – Frolik
    Hathaway- Jankowski- Lindholm
    Press Box: Monahan….time for him to figure his game out. WAY TOO MUCH FLOATING, out of position, disengaged. Dude is good for half a season of easy games but when going gets tough he is invisible.

  • oddclod

    I’ve had my criticisms for this writer in the past. Maybe game analysis is Pike’s thing and maybe these fun articles are Ari’s thing. A good read. Good job Ari. We don’t really need 3 post game articles anyways, it hurts your brand and gets watered down. having a technical analysis, a quip article, and a fan article is too much imo.

    That said:

    Gaudreau Backlund Tkachuk
    Ryan Lindholm Neal
    Czarnik Monohan Frolik
    Mangi Jankowski Hathaway

    Swap out Czar for Bennett.

    • Avalain

      So personally I love the 3 post game articles. Well, technically I love two of the three. I love to get the post game quips from the players and coach and I love the post game embers to talk about the game the next day. Plus, I appreciate the article that is written the day after when everyone has had a chance to sleep on it. The immediate post game isn’t as valuable for me, but I still recognize that many others love that one. If it’s too much for you, consider just not reading one of them?

      • Cfan in Van

        I’m right there with you Avalain. I skip the post game, because anyone who watches the game already knows that info (but valuable to those who couldn’t catch it). I always read Quips and Embers. Great content, thanks, and keep it coming.

  • Bawcos

    This seems not that hard – Although I’m about to get trashed to death. The expectation was that if Linholm falters on the 1st line, Neal would get his shot. I know he hasn’t earned it (to put it mildly), but at this point, why not try it. They have a few points to play with and it just might give the right players the right kick in the a$$ they need. Also, Ryan and the 4th line have been awesome of late. Don’t change that or forget that Monny is their #1C like it or not. The only question for me is do you put Frolik on the 3rd line or keep the 3M line going. For 3 games or so, I’d try Lindholm on the 2nd line – playing with Backs has helped a lot of players in the past.

    JG SM JN
    MT MB EL
    SB/AC MJ MF
    AM DR GH

  • Off the wall

    Let’s give Peters some credit here. Neal was supposed to be our #1, 2 RW. It didn’t work.He tried variations of everything to get Neal producing.

    So Neal has become our 3rd line guy, like it or not. That probably won’t change.

    What else can he do that he hasn’t already done? He’s tinkered with every line, both goalies and yet here we are, seeing a drastic change in the lineup.

    I don’t call this desperation. I call it smart coaching. It’s been obvious all season long, he makes careful adjustments. And he’s provided ample time for our 1st line, to justify keeping them together.

    I’m not worried about our coaching. He’s a beauty, that’s got us with 2 goalies with 20+ wins. And a lineup that for the most part, can be deployed with different strategies and still come out looking good.

    Yeah, Peters is alright. He’s got vision and I’m sure it’s a lot better than mine!

    What else

    • Kevin R

      Yup nothing but panic central on that top line. Flames arent stupid, if Monahan was struggling with any hint of injury or setback from surgeries, he would be sitting out to mend. Look back over the years & several teams that jump out to quick leads have a cruise mode the last 3rd games because it’s simple, the need for urgency isnt at the top of the list. The Sharks cruised into the playoffs the year they went to the finals & then suddenly got it together come playoff time, especially when LA gave them a huge scare in the first round. Balls to the wall for 82 games just doesnt make sense for most teams. But that’s what’s expected it seems here. Playoffs are a marathon, the starting gun goes off April 11th.
      I’m sure Monahan Gaudreau & Lindholm will turn the intensity up a few notches on the 11th. Even the Dome is turned up many notches come playoff time. My concern is guys like Tkachuk & Gio & Hamonic play at a pretty consistent level every game, would hate to see one of them get nicked before the playoffs on a pretty well meaningless game. Doesnt matter who we play, we have home ice advantage, we will have to be our best for any 7 game series.

  • Bawcos

    Seriously, how good would it be if going into the playoffs they got Neal going. And Lindholm out to prove more. I think Frolik will be fine anywhere you have him. He has a history of just that

    • redwhiteblack

      Neil is never going to get going. Seen enough and there are better options. What we need is the top line going. If this is their new norm wins will be hard in the post season. We Gio type consistency from the top 3.

      • The Red Knight

        I’d compare Neal’s shooting percentage to Ferlund’s before he broke out , not sure if I’d write off Neal yet , Hamonic had a rocky first year too,

  • bork bork bork

    I’d try this for a game or two:
    Gaudreau – Ryan – Neal
    Tkachuk – Monahan – Lindholm
    Mangiapane – Backlund – Frolik
    Bennett – Jankowski – Hathaway

    • withachance

      Dont really need fox, was just a funny thought. However, this aint the 90s anymore – Lucic and Kassian are big, lets get those guys on the team right?