If there was one thing proven about Alain Vigneault’s coaching style over the years, it’s that he tactically deploys his lines (after a whistle) depending on the zone start and the opposing line sent out. Last year we saw the Brian Boyle-Dominic Moore-Derek Dorsett line get the majority of their starts in the defensive zone, while the Mats Zuccarello-Derick Brassard-Benoit Pouliot line received primarily offensive zone starts. It is a common practice among coaches.
This year the lines have been shaken up with the turnover, and the matchups will likely change, both in zone starts and in quality of competition faced. Using the lines from practice the past few days, we can make some guesses.
This is going to be the powerhouse line. Incredibly deep offensively, but no slouches defensively, this line is likely to get the top competition faced while getting most of their starts in the offensive zone. This is the line that AV will start in the OZ whenever he can. This will be the same when Derek Stepan returns to take his 1C spot, moving MSL to RW on this line (and Nash to the Brass-Zucc line).
Two-thirds of this line received a ton of offensive zone starts against weak competition last year. As the third line last year, that was expected. It’s one of the reasons why the line shined. However, they are now the team’s second line, and with that will come tougher competition and fewer OZ starts (see below). Hagelin adds a defensive element to the line that Pouliot did not, which will help them somewhat in the DZ. Zucc is the catalyst for this line, but they lack a true finisher. When Stepan returns (bumping MSL to the RW again) I’d expect to see Nash on this line to give them a finisher.
This is the line that I have the most worries about. The line is certainly fast, gifted offensively, and loaded with a good balance of talent and potential. That said, only Stempniak is solid in the DZ. Miller’s reputation in the DZ is questionable at best, and Duclair is a question mark. Expect this line to get the same minutes that last year’s third line did: Sheltered minutes against weaker competition with an overwhelming majority of starts in the OZ.
Moore and Fast are superb in the defensive zone. Glass is not. But Glass is a winger, so his role is to either guard the strong side defenseman or to cut off the passing lane to the weak side, depending on puck location. I bring up his responsibilities because this is the line that will get pinned with 70% DZ starts against all competition. Fast and Glass add a lot more speed that will compliment Moore a little better, and may help the transition to offense if possible. My only concern is Glass, but that’s been well documented by this point.
Naturally, this could change as players (Stepan, Kevin Hayes) get healthy and the lineup starts changing. But AV has been pretty good at giving his offensive players opportunities to score and putting defensive players in positions to help the club. He’s also been very good at sheltering those that need sheltered minutes. It will be fun to watch the deployment this year.