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Changing on the Go

What's my line, anyway

by James O'Brien
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:04 pm ET

As I mentioned in the first-ever edition of Changing on the Go, doing a line changes column actually leaves things very susceptible to … well, change.


NHL coaches tinker with their lines frequently, sometimes every night. Sometimes they tease changes that don’t happen in practice. It’s a fearful thing to realize that some tweaks mentioned here could become irrelevant in record time.


So … I figured I’d get that out of the way.


To best give you something you can use, I’ll do my best to add useful analysis maybe even if line specifics themselves go extinct. Perhaps you can chuckle and think of me wincing when a coach inexplicably puts his lines in a blender just because his team lost, or any number of other possibilities.


Anyway, let’s get going.


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Sidney Crosby engaged in a full practice on Monday. There’s a chance he might play against Jaromir Jagr and the Florida Panthers tonight (Tuesday). Concussions are tough to forecast, so be careful with that one, even if signs point in the direction of “Yes.”


But what if Crosby does play? How should the Penguins arrange their forward groups?


As of Monday, Crosby took line rushes with Scott Wilson (who’s gotten some hit-or-miss reps with Evgeni Malkin) and Patric Hornqvist. Malkin was with Chris Kunitz and Bryan Rust while Shawn Michaels can rest easy in seeing Phil Kessel, Nick Bonino and Carl Hagelin together under this constellation.


Wilson is maybe the most interesting case, as one could imagine Conor Sheary bumping him off that Crosby line. Sheary is day-to-day with an eye injury, and has enjoyed some nice chemistry with Crosby in the past. Wilson, to his credit, as a two-game goal streak going.


From a fantasy perspective, the reasonable goal of spreading offense around is less than ideal.


Is it that crazy to at least throw out the idea of lining up Crosby and Malkin and some lucky winner (maybe try Hornqvist with some other linemates to get some depth scoring?) for a little bit? They’re fun to watch on the power play, but more even-strength time with the two would be a delight.


Maybe Mike Sullivan can save that for the dog days of the 2016-17 season? Hey, 82 games can be taxing.




So, Patrice Bergeron has been back for two games, sliding into the pivot spot between Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak. He has a goal to show for it so far. Depth is a bit of an issue for the Bruins, but they’re trying to give themselves at least a decent top nine by going with the pairings of David Backes - David Krejci (the Davids! David squared) while Matt Beleskey and Jimmy Hayes are centered by Ryan Spooner.


So, who gets the nice gig of being with Krejci and Backes? It is Danton Heinen. And … who is that?

Well, he’s a fourth-rounder (116th pick from 2014), he's 21 and scored 20 goals in 41 games for the University of Denver last season. He hasn't generated a point yet in four NHL games. About the best thing I can say for him is that his possession stats seem solid but ... I dunno guys. Seems like you're asking the Daves to carry someone who, erm, might not be ready for prime time.


/prepares for Heinen's first career hat trick tonight.




The Calgary Flames continue to put Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau’s RW option in a blender, settling on Alex Chiasson on Monday. Now, I didn’t hate what I saw from Gaudreau and Monahan last night, and Chiasson got two SOG … but sheesh. Kinda makes me wonder why Calgary didn’t consider bringing in Jiri Hudler, especially if $2 million really was the asking price (and not just a Dallas discount).


Now, I know Hudler has a case of the bad soup like a huge number of Dallas Stars players … but the thought still counts.


Anyway, allow me a suggestion, at least if Calgary ignores my wonderful wife’s pleas for Michael Frolik.


Why not let Matthew Tkachuk sink or swim with two talented linemates?


After playing five games, Tkachuk has been a healthy scratch for the last two. Even when he played, he averaged just under 12 minutes of ice time per game.


I get Calgary not wanting to burn an entry-level year, or maybe gauging if their playoff odds will dwindle with a bad start ... but this seems like the worst of both worlds.


Tkachuk can create some havoc with his hard hits (he's delivered just four, yet most of them have attracted the disdain of opponents) and is really, really skilled. Rather than Gaudreau and Monahan doing all the work, Tkachuk may be able to *gasp* make some magic for them. He would add some snarl to that group while also being able to keep up.


Heck, Glen Gulutzan could even give him a quota: score, say, three goals in four games and you get to stay up. That wouldn't be easy, but it would be a great way to dangle the carrot for a high-end talent and maybe goose a few standings points out of the whole deal.


Or the Flames can just keep saddling them with jabronies. They could do that too.




-- Yikes, the Dallas Stars are a mess right now thanks to a pretty ridiculous run of injuries. Not to say I’d start your goalie against them … at least without trepidation. Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin could scare me even if they were playing with nothing but Hal Gill and a bunch of decreasingly effective Hal Gill clones.


(Sorry Hal Gill.)


-- One of my favorite non-Erik Karlsson moments of any Ottawa Senators game is to watch the awesome, underrated trio of Mike Hoffman, Kyle Turris and Mark Stone.


Guy Boucher decided to throw names in a hat, and the top combo is in jeopardy, with Tom Pyatt replacing Stone, who joins Zack Smith and Jean-Gabriel Pageau. I DISAPPROVE.


-- What a night for Alexander Radulov. He scored a goal and two assists, and goodness, was that tally brimming with swagger. He only had one SOG, but Radulov looked electric on rushes like these and is one of fantasy’s most intriguing wild cards, as we don’t really know what his ceiling is after all those years in the KHL.


Tomas Plekanec deserves a great linemate like Radulov, especially since it allows Montreal to load up with Max Pacioretty - Alex Galchenyuk - Brendan Gallagher. What to say, then, of Plekanec and Radulov’s running mate, Artturi Lehkonen?


Well, his mugshot is funny, which is always important. Also quite noteworthy is that he's earned his two goals and one assist so far this season. Even with solid but unspectacular ice time, he's firing away with 19 SOG in six GP, including five on Monday.


It’s early, but at the moment, it seems like he belongs.


-- Radko Gudas and Michael Del Zotto seem like they’re on the verge of returning, so keep an eye out for how that will affect Philadelphia’s defense pairings. The Flyers have been OK so far, but improving their defense could make them pretty nicely balanced (considering that killer power play, competent goalie combo and intriguing young talent).


-- Dare I say it; I don’t totally hate the idea of lining up Taylor Hall with Pavel Zacha and Kyle Palmieri.

James O'Brien
James O'Brien is the Hockey Daily Dose's author and has been a contributor to NBC's Pro Hockey Talk for more than four years. Follow him on Twitter.