This latest line changes column is being compiled while cowering in fear at the coming snowstorm, a punishment from Mother Nature (surely) for your author’s optimism that the winter was essentially on its last legs. Well, maybe it IS on its last legs, only those legs are readying one more major kick in the gut.*
Let’s take a tour through some of the league’s twists and tweaks, shall we?
* - Please, please make this the last kick in the gut of winter. Also, winter reacts to your whims and commentary, right? That has to be how it works.
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-- The Ottawa Senators get two key players back in Kyle Turris and Bobby Ryan, with Ryan's absence being especially pronounced (he last played about a month ago). So far, it looks to be a pretty nice lineup, albeit without one line that really knocks your socks off:
Again, there isn't a "wow" trio in that group, but the top three lines have at least one viable scoring threat and even the fourth one has some wingers I'm fond of as far depth guys go in Stalberg and Wingels. We'll see if that's the right mix of ingredients, as the roster's been tweaked a touch since Ryan last suited up for the Sens.
-- With the Oilers top two lines fairly set, David Desharnais slides into a third line with Zack Kassian and Drake Caggiula while Mark Letestu centers Matt Hendricks (he's still around!) and Anton Slepyshev.
Yuck. Anyway ...
In four games with Edmonton, Desharnais has a goal and an assist with four SOG. After getting 14:28 in his Oilers debut, the former Habs pivot is clocking in the low teens in ice time for the most part.
-- As perplexing as the Canadiens' moves have been to bring in Steve Ott and Dwight Kings, they're not really doing much lineup damage in the bottom. Otherwise, they have a pretty nice-looking top nine:
Yeah, that's pretty solid, though let's check in on Danault, as I wondered if he was first-line material recently.
From a fantasy perspective, I'm still not crazy about his modest SOG outputs, as that to me seems like the most obvious sign of a guy making waves. Then again, not every player needs to be a sniper, and Danault has two assists in his past four games and respectable possession numbers so far this season.
With the Canadiens' other two centers getting some nice linemates, it's easier for Galchenyuk/Plekanec owners to stomach Danault's seemingly featured placement. It's an interesting situation to monitor, nonetheless.
Speaking of Helm, I wonder if he'd actually be better off in Justin Abdelkader's spot on a line with super-speedy forwards Andreas Athanasiou and Dylan Larkin? That trio could provide some serious wheels in the Motor City.
-- A suspension leaves Kevin Shattenkirk eligible to return to the Caps lineup on Thursday, March 18. Such an alignment makes life a little more straightforward for Brooks Orpik and Nate Schmidt, at least for a tiny window of time.
With Andre Burakovsky day-to-day, it also seems like Jakub Vrana continues to get a chance to make an impression. Personally, I'd want to integrate him into an already robust Capitals lineup, as a playoffs-ready Vrana could give Washington a truly unfair collection of talent. But I guess you have to load up on do-little "gritty" types for those tough games.
-- The Lightning gave Brayden Point the 21st birthday present of lining up with Nikita Kucherov (and Ondrej Palat), and he scored two goals on Monday. With Vladislav Namestnikov re-injured, it's unclear how the already jumbled Lightning lines may look going forward.
Really, this stack of injuries makes Tampa Bay's rise even tougher to fathom. There's a little smoke and mirrors at times considering some of the nights where they're getting killed in the SOG disparity category, but good for them.
-- The Penguins keep chugging along even with a rather dizzying array of injuries to deal with. An already thin defense might be without Mark Streit, so keep an eye out for updates regarding the veteran defenseman.
One extra area where Sidney Crosby deserves some additional Hart Trophy kudos is how he makes their even-strength forward lines work. I really like Jake Guentzel and Conor Sheary as lesser-known gems, but the bottom line is that he helps them produce like top-six forwards, allowing other lines to load up more than they otherwise would. Evgeni Malkin is killing it on the same level (more or less) production-wise, a boon for fantasy owners. Crosby doesn't deserve *ALL* the credit, but certainly a few Kudos bars.
-- Ryan Murray continues his run as one of the unluckiest guys this side of Marian Gaborik when it comes to injuries, as he's expected to miss more or less the remainder of the regular season and possibly some playoff time with a hand injury. Nick Foligno is also a little sick for Columbus.
That said, you wonder if the Blue Jackets might need to experiment with different lineup variations. Even with the lowered expectations that come with a bottom pairing, how comfortable can the CBJ really be with a duo of Kyle Quincey and Markus Nutivaara (named after the energy bar I consumed during this column's writing, no doubt).