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:
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?