Making sense of yesterday’s line combinations

(Andy Clark/Reuters)
(Andy Clark/Reuters)

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%).

UPI /John Angelillo
UPI /John Angelillo

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.

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  • Maybe is my reply to all the maybe excuses being offered for AV.

    Maybe putting our most creative passing winger with two guys that have concrete hands and no shot won’t work.

    Maybe playing our youth consistently on the 4th line is no way to develop prospects.

    Maybe calling up Powe due to being short PK guys, and then not playing him on the PK, was a waste.

    Maybe playing Dorsett in the last 3-4 minutes of a game in which his penalties directly led to a loss that evening is a Pee Wee coach oversight.

    Maybe, just maybe, AV is not the right coach for this team.

    • Maybe when the Rangers were making the playoffs every year. The players, the fans, and the media should have shut up about his attitude. However, it’s way too early to make a judgement on the coach missing all 3 top line players.

    • Maybe Dave is offering analysis and not excuses? Maybe if Dave wrote an article that just said “man AV is stupid, I’m mad” we probably wouldn’t all come here to read what else he and the staff posts?

      Again, Dave isn’t saying the combos make sense (in fact he explicitly states they seem funny). So he wrote an article saying, hey, this is strange, let’s look at why this possibly might be.

      I don’t know, maybe it’s more interesting than reading how mad you are at AV on every post. As a Torts fan, this is just as interesting as reading all of the anti-Torts commentary last year, over and over, with nothing interesting added to it. Just a bunch of broken records in the comments (or scratched CDs, not that the second reference is any more modern).

        • Every coach does that. You think it’s only the last 3 NYR coaches. If all were healthy AV wouldn’t be changing things up as much. He has no choice right now.

  • Firstly, I think the Ranger have enough defensive minded forwards that they should be able to create one line that can at the very least neutralize the other teams best forwards. This would keep the Rangers in the game and perhaps give them a chance to win
    On offence you have to admit AV doesn’t have a lot of weapons right now. I don’t know how well Richards or Kreider would adapt on the right wing as they both are left handers, but putting them along side Stephan is worth a shot. I would try the Brassard, Zuke and Pouliot combo again they do have chemistry and create offense chances, maybe they are due for a break out game.
    The Boyle, Pyatt and Dorcett line were very good in the Boston series as a shutdown line. When Dorcett is not crossing the line and taking dumb penalties he is an effective player and provides energy.
    Lastly I would have Mash Miller and Moore as my 4th line. They play with some nastiest and have enough talent that they could surprize a team and pot a goal.

    Fast needs some time in Hartford to develop his game.

    • Putting Pyatt on the first line does not give you weapons. Adding a seventh defenseman to the team does not give you offence.
      We know our team and it looks like the coach does not yet?!
      Or maybe we don’t and the coach knows all?

    • I don’t get why people bitch so much when a coach changes his lines. If your team sucks for a stretch of games and has a bottom five offense in the NHl why the hell would he keep trying to do the same thing? Every coach does it yet only the ones who coach the Rangers are idiots.

      • It’s not the principle of juggling lines that is the problem.

        It’s the specific combos that are being put together that is at issue.

        Nuance, people.

        • Pretty sure with Renney and Torts it was the line juggling and not the actual combos people had problems with. Give AV time, he’ll get those complaints too.

  • Wow even when we jettison the old players people whine about having the kids up in the nhl.

    Mackimmon is doing just fine on a 3rd line. That’s where you develop youth. Less competition and scrutiny.

    Given that we aren’t coaches and we still haven’t played a home game, I think we need to relax.

  • My thought on this is why isn’t Miller put on the 2nd or 3rd lines? He can score, plays a sound two way game, and leave the 4th line to guys such as Mash, Moore, Dorsett.

    Brass, Miller, and Zucc would be a nice 2nd line, your thoughts!! Also, maybe keeping the Fast kid up may be a mistake, he needs time on the ice, send him down, and bring up the Kristo kid instead.

  • Zuke (to small, still not scoring) or Dorsett (can’t score or fight) should be sent down. Kisto or Lindberg or both should be given a shot. We need offence (as a matter of fact for the last 5 or longer years we have needed offence). Maybe we need some of the Penguin scouts

    • I watched the Pens game last night, and they come at you in waves. How is it that teams like them find all the scorers, and we find all the grinders?????

      • Because their GM has balls. They trade for guys like Kunitz and Neal, while we go after guys like Zherdev, Wolski, Pouliot and expect them to be any different than they were elsewhere.

        • Kudos. Also pens sucked for a loooooong time. Got some great draft picks that panned out for them. Plus we kept trading with them. They used our bad trades to get good assets and turn them into what they have today.

          • Agreed bro, Malkin and Crosby are a different breed. Though you gotta love what Shero has done to give them a supporting cast. Just about everyone passed up on Letang at the draft (twice), the Goligoski trade for Neal and Niskanen was superb, and Dan Bylsma is one of the best coaches in the game.

  • Great point about our replacement 2nd line guys struggling against 2nd D pairings. Bring our 3 injured players back and that is less of a problem. You can’t expect guys like Zuc and Pouliot to do well against that kind of competition, as they are both complimentary pieces with nothing to compliment. And I can’t believe people are missing the Torts “let’s stay pinned in our own zone” hockey. That was painful to watch and would never deliver a Cup. Let AV’s system catch on and get our best players healthy (or in Hank’s case back to normal) before you run him out of town please.

    • No one’s trying to run him out of town (alright, maybe a couple people are), but he simply has to do more with this team.

      They seem remarkably unprepared, and are clearly not handling his systematic adjustment. That’s on him and his staff to get this team prepped to play a team system. The injuries have been a big blow, for sure, but what he’s doing with the roster he currently has doesn’t make much sense.

      We’re getting close to blowing the season before our home opener. That’s unacceptable, no matter the pile of factors working against the team right now.

      I’m giving AV a chance –even though I think Torts brought the type of style that succeeds in the playoffs– but being new shouldn’t insulate him from fair and accurate criticism. He’s gotta get this team turned around quickly.

      • Highest paid coach in the league, he has to do much better. This team was ready to play 3 games so far, thats unacceptable! Torts would have them competing every night regardless who’s out there. Fire sather, LGR!!!

  • when my laptop no longer works, i’m looking directly at you, Dave — sip of water + Tom Renney line generator = disaster.

  • Miller-Brassard-Zucc

    Move over A.V. I’m taking over here.

  • Pittsburgh does well because getting to draft 1st or 2nd every year gets you guys like Gretsky, Malkin, Staal, Fleury. Plus, they draft character guys.

    Of course, with Sather & Gordie Clark evaluating talent, you never know. After all, both Clark & Sather said at the 2003 NHL Draft that Jessiman was the #1 player they had on the board, even if they got the 1st overall pick.

    Also, there have been numerous players available to the Rangers at the NHL Draft & Sather/Clark chose to ignore them. The list is large, and the best Sather/Clark can show for their eleven #1 draft choices is Staal.

    By the way, 2012 #1 draft choice Skjei has ZERO POINTS/GOALS for his first four games at the University of Minnesota as a sophomore. One more terrible year and he is no longer an NHL prospect after being benched 4 games out of 40 games last year for uninspired play.

    • Skjei is more physical than scorer. He’s 200 lbs and worst case he’s a serviceable 5-7 dman.

      And the pens drafted fleury, Crosby and staal 1-2 overall.

      Was skjei drafted 1-2 overall? No.

      Did you also know that the 10th pick overall for mcilrath was the highest they have had in a long long time?

      Tell you what you give anyone the top pick in the draft for 4 years and they will draft well.

      Get real man. Everyone knows a pick after the the 5th overall is a gamble.

  • This new coach AV last week needs offence so he calls up a player (Steve Powe)who didn’t score a goal all of last year and has done really nothing in Hartford. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. We don’t need his penalty killing or grinding (we have like 5 other players like that, that’s the problem). Sure enough he was sent down and thank God AV came to his senses and called up Mash.
    So far this coach is not impressing me at all. Hopefully things improve.

  • Right now our biggest problem is positioning. While it’s obvious on defense it’s also evident on offense. The players without the puck need to get into an open area to receive passes. Too often we try to make passes through opposing defensive players and more often than not it gets broken up. Also, we try to make too may passes to players that are being defensed too closely. That’s ok if you’re near the net where a deflection could be a shot on goal but in open ice, not such a good decision.

    Kreider needs to be more physical like he was near the end of the Boston series. I thought he had a few good games near the end there.

  • Someone necessarily lend a hand to make severely posts I’d state. That is the first time I frequented your web page and to this point? I amazed with the research you made to make this actual publish extraordinary. Excellent process!

  • Disagree w/: “The top line of Derek Stepan as the pivot between Brad Richards and Chris Kreider made sense.” While not horrible, that clearly DOES NOT make sense.

    AV system works, but it requires SPEED.
    Only real speed guys, not injured Hags + Cally, are Kreider – Miller – Fast. THAT is the line that should be playing, if not 1st line minutes, then 2nd line FOR SURE. Ideally you want every pro to be able to adjust their game and gravitate a match to whoever are their linemates. But in reality, guys like Pyatt suck, and AV, get it into your head that it’s bad enough he is still 4th line, let alone on the team, let alone getting top 6 mins w/likes of Kreider in preseason. WHAT A WASTE. Also, let these guys play to their strength — high speed, most opposition cannot keep up with. Like bunting in baseball, deflections are a skill worth learning, but you don’t go nuts about something so supplemental over the basics, esp. at this point.

    Easy call: Kreider – Miller – Fast
    rest of lines (current injury scenario roster):
    Richards – Stepan – Hrivik {MZA (Zuc)}
    Boyle – Brassard – MSC (St. Croix)
    Yogan – Moore – Dorsett

    lose Pyatt. Promote Yogan, who is tall, has some scoring history, and I think can go after this year. Don’t want to lose him for nothing. Play him, see what he has, use the production or deal him, but don’t give away. Boyle can take FO and then must switch to LW, has little offensive creativity. Would like to see dealt. Zuc is too lightweight, cannot play D vs bigger NHL guys, it is that simple. No one wants him, he is great for shoot outs, but that is a luxury and useless for playoffs. Replace w/Hrivik (try him off wing) ASAP. Mashinter overrated but could be 4th line LW beef, allowing better scoring Yogan to higher line. MSC has track record scoring, would give him shot at RW. It’s early, but I want to see some zip out of Dorsett, or he can be replaced too.

    Those 12, added to the speed line, are our best shot for across the board effectiveness including scoring.

    Are you listening AV?
    I’m talking to you.

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