Flames embrace line shuffling in win over Winnipeg
Photo credit:Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
By Ryan Pike6 months ago
Over the past few games, almost out of necessity, the Calgary Flames haven’t changed their lines or pairings very much. Missing a few key players, perhaps the idea was to err on the side of stability. But on Saturday night against the Winnipeg Jets, the Flames’ coaching staff didn’t shy away from mixing up their forwards or shortening the bench.
It resulted in a 3-2 victory over the Jets, their first trip to the win column in the month of November.
The Flames began the game with their status quo lines (at least since Jonathan Huberdeau’s injury):
- Ruzicka – Lindholm – Toffoli
- Mangiapane – Backlund – Lewis
- Dube – Kadri – Coleman
- Lucic – Rooney – Ritchie
The top line performed quite well, particularly when you remember that Ruzicka doesn’t have a ton of NHL experience – just 35 games – and had played just a handful of pro games as a winger. Ruzicka set up Lindholm’s opening goal, and Lindholm returned the favour on the second goal.
“I like that Lindy likes who he’s playing with,” said head coach Darryl Sutter to the media following the game. “He’s our best forward and we shouldn’t be experimenting with him.”
Either because of player preference or performance, or both, that trio was the only forward line that was together for the entire game.
In the second period, the two clubs played just over eight minutes at five-on-five because of a slew of penalties in each direction. After a power play sequence for the second unit, the coaching staff decided to keep Lucic with Backlund and Mangiapane. That move resulted in Lewis dropping down to play with Kadri and Coleman, and Dube dropping down to play with Rooney and Ritchie.
“We put them together late in the second,” said Sutter of Lucic, Backlund and Mangiapane. “We were going to use those guys as a power play group anyways tonight, so it just happened that we just left them five-on-five.”
On the blueline, here’s how the pairings began:
- Hanifin & Andersson
- Zadorov & Weegar
- Mackey & Tanev
By the third period, Mackey (0:43), Dube (1:00), Rooney (0:02) and Ritchie (1:13) were effectively benched as the Flames tried to maintain pressure on the Jets to avoid a comeback, so the Flames opted for a short bench of two pairings and three lines. Tanev played with a mixture of Zadorov, Hanifin and Weegar throughout the third period.
It’s safe to say that the Flames were happy to have Tanev back after missing five games with an injury.
“Gives some stability,” said Sutter. “You know what, it’s a short bench down there, too. We’re still searching for the magic combinations. So, Tanny can play with anybody, so that’s about getting him back.”
The Flames are still missing some key players, and will undoubtedly need to engage in further shuffling as players like Michael Stone and Jonathan Huberdeau become available again. But on Saturday night against the Jets, with the players they had at their disposal, they managed to get enough energy and execution to grind out a tight victory.
The challenge from here is finding a way to build one win into a string of them.
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