Calgary Flames lineup stability both hurts and helps

Photo credit:Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports
Ryan Pike
1 year ago
The Calgary Flames have had a remarkably consistent lineup. Over a dozen players have dressed for every single game and aside from the COVID-19 outbreak that postponed a bunch of games, the club has been remarkably injury-free.
But the same core group being healthy for every game has resulted in remarkable consistency and stability in their lineup’s configuration, which may be hurting as much as it helps.
Through 34 games, 13 players have dressed for every game: Erik Gudbranson, Trevor Lewis, Chris Tanev, Mikael Backlund, Dillon Dube, Milan Lucic, Rasmus Andersson, Sean Monahan, Andrew Mangiapane, Elias Lindholm, Matthew Tkachuk, Johnny Gaudreau and Jacob Markström (who’s been starter or dressed as backup for every game). Another four players have only missed dressing for one game apiece: Dan Vladar, Blake Coleman, Noah Hanifin and Oliver Kylington.
Kylington was the seventh defender in the season-opener, was a scratch for the second game, and joined Tanev on the second pairing in the third game when Nikita Zadorov was scratched.
This roster consistency has meant that the Flames have operated, more or less, with the same lines and pairings for the better part of 30-plus games:
Gaudreau – Lindholm – Tkachuk
Mangiapane – Backlund – Coleman
Rotating – Monahan – Rotating
Rotating – Richardson – Rotating
Hanifin – Andersson
Kylington – Tanev
Zadorov – Gudbranson
The good thing about consistency is that if configurations are working, they can be rolled out a lot. The Flames’ top line has been superb this season, as has their top two defensive pairings. The emergence of Kylington as a consistent difference-maker has been a revelation, but it’s also allowed the Flames to use their top two pairings almost interchangeably and it’s given them all kinds of tactical flexibility.
Here’s the downside: up front, the Flames really just have six forwards that move the needle offensively. More often than not, they’ve been on the same two lines. Darryl Sutter has been loathe to break up his first line for any reason – he’s done it for a shift or two in games, tops, but always goes back to them. Aside from shuffling the secondary trio a little bit, the Flames have remained a top-heavy team with few, if any, offensive weapons beyond that group – with apologies to Milan Lucic.
Defensively, he has quite simply not mixed and matched at all. The top two pairings have generally worked quite well – especially Tanev and Kylington – but he’s stuck with the other two pairings even while they’ve struggled lately.
An old saying goes “if the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” The Flames have been blessed with remarkable injury luck this season and it’s provided them with tremendous consistency with their lineup. But rather than use that consistency to give them flexibility to try new things, the Flames have stubbornly stuck to the same lines and pairings – even when they’ve hit rough patches or gone cold offensively.
Here’s hoping as we head into the mid-season, and especially a February that’s going to be chock full of games, that the Flames feel a bit more comfortable to shuffle the deck with their lineup with more regularity.


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