The Calgary Flames have completed four games and they’re 2-1-1. They’ve gotten some nice contributions from much of their line-up. But our mailbag respondents are a bit focused on an area that hasn’t quite been great: the fourth line.
Let’s dive in!
So, uh, Milan Lucic hasn’t been great to start the season. He’s been out-shot 25-8 (24.2%) at five on five. He’s one of four forwards with an expected goals percentage below 50%, too.
But he’s also been buried with defensive zone starts more than any player not named Joakim Nordstrom: Lucic has had 36.4% of his draws in the offensive zone, Nordstrom has had 0.0%. Lucic is also almost even for scoring chances (17-15) and high dangers (6-4). Given his history with head coach Geoff Ward, he’d need to really stink out the rink in order to be parked in the press box.
As noted earlier, Lucic probably keeps playing until he has a horrendous game. Since his deal has a no move clause on it, he cannot be waived to be placed on the taxi squad.
The problem with the fourth line this season is that it’s kind of been an afterthought. Aside from being given a ton of defensive zone starts, the group doesn’t have a lot of identity or purpose.
Ward seemingly has three “core” top nine pairings: Elias Lindholm/Matthew Tkachuk, Mikael Backlund/Andrew Mangiapane and Sean Monahan/Johnny Gaudreau. And he’s been rotating a handful of wingers with those pairs to form three core forward lines: Josh Leivo, Sam Bennett, Dillon Dube and Dominik Simon. The problem is that leaves the odd man out with utility player Derek Ryan, Nordstrom or Lucic. The gap in skill, speed and playing style among whoever is on the fourth line makes the trio a bit disconnected and that’s hard to overcome.
Barring a change in personnel, I would expect the Flames to attempt to muddle through by leaning on their three better-performing lines at even strength.
Skimming the face-off data for the first four games, Mikael Backlund has been tossed out of the face-off dot five times. That leads the team. Elias Lindholm has been tossed out less frequently, while Sean Monahan basically never gets tossed out.