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Calgary Flames have new lines, same good defensive pairings at practice

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Photo credit:Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Ryan Pike
11 months ago
The Calgary Flames hit the practice ice on Tuesday, skating for the third time since their COVID-19 shutdown. Everybody was accounted for – even injured forward Tyler Pitlick – and the group had some forward lines that looked a little different than usual.
(Lines via our dear pal Pat Steinberg.)

Johnny Gaudreau, Elias Lindholm & Matthew Tkachuk

The top line for the Flames was kept the same, and probably was kept together because they’ve been excellent. They’ve played 337:19 together at five-on-five and boast a gaudy 62.89 expected goals percentage. They’ve generated offense. They’ve avoided getting caved in defensively. They’re a group that can play against anybody’s top line and out-gun them.
They are, quite simply, a Top Forward Line.

Milan Lucic, Mikael Backlund & Blake Coleman

This group has played just 10:46 together at five-on-five, and got caved in a bit with a 40.84 expected goals percentage. Granted, it was a small sample size. The logic between these three players being together is somewhat smart: Backlund and Coleman are really effective two-way players and Lucic is a savvy two-way presence, so adding his physicality to the other two makes sense.
But Lucic isn’t fast and neither of Backlund or Coleman are needle-movers offensively right now, or even play-drivers offensively. Andrew Mangiapane played in the Lucic spot earlier on and worked quite well (as a play-driver), so I’m not sure if that wouldn’t be a better second line trio to have together.

Andrew Mangiapane, Dillon Dube & Brett Ritchie

These guys played a road trip together, getting 50:55 together at five-on-five and posting a respectable 50.28 expected goals percentage. They were put together to see how Dube could do as a centre. He was fine, but only fine, and so he was moved back to the wing shortly thereafter. Putting three good forecheckers together makes sense, though only Mangiapane is a real play-driver or offensive force on this line.

Trevor Lewis, Sean Monahan & Brad Richardson

This trio has played 26:27 together at five-on-five and was caved in with a 35.47 expected goals percentage. Granted, the way the fourth line is used on the Flames – buried with defensive zone starts – every combo of fourth liners has been caved in by expected goals metrics. On one hand, this trio gives you three veterans and two guys that can take face-offs. On the other hand, it groups three slower guys together in a way that might not be ideal.
The Flames’ last game against Boston featured Mangiapane-Backlund-Coleman, Dube-Monahan-Lucic and Richardson-Ruzicka-Lewis as the bottom three lines. When Ritchie was active, he spent time with Dube and Monahan (which pushed Lucic to a line with Richardson and Lewis).
It’s not clear, given the composition of the team’s forward group these days, if there’s a “perfect” four line combination, because specific players like Monahan and Lucic need to be given specific usages that maximize their skill-set. Given those constraints, there’s not a huge amount of line flexibility.
Kept together because they’re super-effective were the three defensive pairings: Noah Hanifin & Rasmus Andersson (418:00 five-on-five, 57.34% xGF), Oliver Kylington & Chris Tanev (388:43 five-on-five, 56.96% xGF) and Nikita Zadorov & Erik Gudbranson (258:08 five-on-five, 50.51% xGF). (Relative to other third pairs, Zadorov & Gudbranson have performed well.)
How would you adjust the current Flames lines? How would Tyler Pitlick fit in, once he’s 100% healthy? Sound off in the comments!

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