The Calgary Flames have played just a pair of games since last week’s mailbag. That’s about to change, friends. The Flames finish off their lengthy homestand this week with three games, and a week from now they’ll be out on Long Island starting their first real road trip of the season.
As we enjoy the calm before the storm, it’s mailbag time!
Right now, my confidence level is “moderate.”
Individually, Jonathan Huberdeau, Elias Lindholm and Tyler Toffoli have attributes that make it seem like they would fit in really well together. Huberdeau is a superb puck distributor – Darryl Sutter referred to him as the best passer the franchise has ever had, and he’s probably right. Lindholm and Toffoli are great finishers, particularly in the area right around the net area. It should work.
It hasn’t worked yet.
Here’s the reason I think they get more runway to figure it out: Sutter is a “strength versus strength” coach. He regular puts his top dogs out against the other team’s best, both in terms of forwards and defenders. So you have Huberdeau, Lindholm and Toffoli trying to build chemistry and Huberdeau trying to figure out where his teammates are going to be while playing against the best players on the other teams – during a stretch where the Flames play against some of the best teams in hockey. That’s tough.
The schedule gets a wee bit easier this week with home games against Seattle, Nashville and New Jersey, so we may see things start to click a bit. But if we don’t, life gets a bit more challenging with three road games the following week and it might be time to take a look at some tweaks.
If the Flames start shaking up their forward lines a bit, I suspect we’ll see swaps rather than wholesale shuffling of the deck. The reason for that may just be that the fourth line (Brett Ritchie, Kevin Rooney and Milan Lucic) and the third line (Mikael Backlund, Blake Coleman and Trevor Lewis) all have pretty well-defined roles that seem to be working well enough right now.
The other issue is probably that it’s not clear where you put Lewis if not with Backlund and Coleman. For a chunk of Saturday’s game against Edmonton (after a couple special teams shifts that disrupted the usual units) the Flames ran with the same first line, but went Coleman-Backlund-Mangiapane, Dube-Kadri-Lucic and Lewis-Rooney-Ritchie before going back to their original lines. Based on the forwards the Flames have, either Lucic or Lewis have to be in the top nine. (When Huberdeau was absent in the first period, Lucic was the guy elevated in his place.)
So that leaves essentially keeping the top two lines as a pool of players to mix and match. Huberdeau and Kadri have had chemistry on the power play, so maybe that’ll work, but Lindholm hasn’t played a ton with Dube and Mangiapane over the past three seasons, so it runs the risk of moving Lindholm onto a completely different line with two guys he hasn’t played a lot with. (Disclaimer: he’s played a lot more with Dube and Mangiapane than he played with Toffoli before this season.) But Mangiapane and Dube’s puck retrieval game might be a good match for Lindholm’s style, so it might be worth trying out.
Regardless, we’re probably a week or two away from having to give line changes a serious pondering.
For those of you who don’t remember him, German Titov was a minor cult figure in Flames history, wearing 13 during the Young Guns era. He was a 10th round draft pick in 1993 and played with the Flames between 1993 and 1998. He scored 20+ goals in three of his five seasons, and he finished off his North American career with stops in Pittsburgh, Edmonton and Anaheim before returning to Russia.
Since retiring from his playing career, he’s carved out a decent little hustle as a coach in various stops in the Kontinental Hockey League. He’s been head coach with Metallug Novokuznetsk, Spartak Moscow, Avangard Omsk and Traktor Chelyabinsk. He was an assistant coach for two seasons with Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg, but he was removed as part of a coaching staff shake-up this past summer.
He seems likely to pop back up in a coaching role in Russia before too long, though.
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