When the new line combinations were made public knowledge during yesterday’s practice, a lot of questions and a lot of heat were directed at the coach. The top line of Derek Stepan as the pivot between Brad Richards and Chris Kreider made sense. All three defense pairings made sense. But the second, third, and fourth forward lines looked like something out of the Tom Renney line generator.
Among the questions: What purpose does Mats Zuccarello serve on a line with Taylor Pyatt and Brian Boyle? Why is Derek Dorsett on a line with Benoit Pouliot and Derick Brassard? Is Dominic Moore still on the fourth line with J.T. Miller and Jesper Fast, or are they forming a third line? What order are these lines in? Which line is going to get the shutdown role? Which line can actually provide some non-Richards based offense? Where was the newly recalled Brandon Mashinter?
These are legitimate questions that came up on Twitter (in my @ mentions) and in the comments. To be honest: They are fair questions. They are very un-AV like lines as well. So let’s try to make some sense of it.
First and foremost, that top line is a given. Kreider needs top line minutes, and it will be interesting to see if he can build off that confidence he got while lighting up the AHL. Philly isn’t all that good defensively or in net, so he should get plenty of offensive chances. This is the line that will get the majority of the offensive zone starts.
After that, well, trying to figure out the shutdown line is difficult. Moore has started the most shifts in the defensive zone at 51.4%. After that it’s (in order): Boyle (47.9%) and Dorsett (44.1%). Moore’s linemates of Miller (34.6%) and Fast (35.9%) fall in the middle of the pack for DZ starts. My guess is that this is the line that will get the majority of the DZ starts.
Side note: I’m using ExtraSkater’s DZ%, since it accounts for neutral zone starts as well. BTN, which is a fantastic resource, only has OZ vs DZ (listed on ExtraSkater as O/DSt%).
So with the top line and the shutdown line –somewhat– deciphered, let’s move on to the middle lines of Pyatt-Boyle-Zuccarello and Pouliot-Brassard-Dorsett. We’ve seen how AV is going to lean heavily on Richards-Stepan in the offensive zone, and Moore in the defensive zone. The rest of the lines usually have an even split among OZ/NZ/DZ starts.
We’ve seen how Pouliot-Brassard-Zuccarello has fizzled, especially since the club is missing three of their top-six guys. This line is drawing tougher matchups than they really should be drawing, and it’s hurting their on-ice performance. It makes sense: Rick Nash (game breaker), Carl Hagelin (possession monster), and Ryan Callahan (captain) are big holes to fill. With the Pouliot-Brassard-Zucc line drawing the second best defenders (instead of third or fourth best), their production suffers.
So AV has split them up to try to see what works. These combos likely won’t last too long, and I’d expect to see some changes real fast. Personally, I’d like to see what Miller and Fast can do with more than 30% OZ starts. Both have offensive potential, so maybe it’s time to try them out on a line that isn’t primarily a shutdown line.
It’s worth noting that traditional line numbers are relatively pointless with AV. Line matching is becoming more and more the norm, and it’s something we should be used to by now. Torts used it, and AV is more into it than Torts. What this means is we will have our top scoring line get the majority of the OZ starts, and our shutdown line get the majority of the DZ starts. The other two lines will get a healthy balance between the three, as those line will be the most balanced and be composed of the most complete two-way players…when healthy.
Maybe it’s even simpler than that. Maybe AV just wants to see Boyle and Zuccarello line up for face offs next to each other.