Better With Popcorn

How to develop consistency with the lines

Any one who has ever played pick-up hockey understands the process of dividing the sticks.

For those of you unaware of the practice, it is a simple way for a group of people to decide teams without having to go through the process of selecting players.

Each person places their stick into a pile at the center of the rink and one person closes their eyes and tosses the sticks into two separate piles with the result being two randomly selected teams.

While the practice works wonders for amateur players, it’s most likely universally believed that the same practice should not be instituted in the professional ranks.

However, after taking a look at the line combinations for the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday night, it’s hard not to wonder how they came to be.

While head coach Peter Laviolette probably didn’t select his lines by picking the player’s sticks out of a pile in the morning skate, one wouldn’t have been surprised if that was the case.

With the exception of Claude Giroux’s line, the rest of the lines had massive shake-ups, which included Daniel Briere joining Sean Couturier and Zac Rinaldo.

Of course, because the team was shutout for the second time in three games, the scrutiny over the lines becomes a little more intense than it would have been had they scored four goals like they did on Saturday night against the Calgary Flames.

However, It’s been evident for a while that the team needs to solidify their line combinations.

While the offense may be the focal point when discussing combinations, it’s important to note that it’s also a matter of defense.

The identity of the Flyers forward group is largely undefined. The only characteristic that the lines have is that all four of them can score.

While this may be fun to watch, it makes it difficult to properly matchup against opponents.

Typically, the team’s top-six is supposed to be the scoring lines, while the bottom-six is supposed to be the defensively minded shutdown units.

While the Flyers may not have a clearly defined goal scorer or a shutdown forward, they do have pieces that are supposed to fill those roles.

The problem that rises is that players who are supposed to be playing in the top-six aren’t performing the way they should be, while others who were supposed to be playing in the bottom-six have been excelling.

For example, Max Talbot and Wayne Simmonds were probably brought in to play on the third or fourth lines in a shutdown role. Instead, they’ve found success scoring and have found a great deal of time on the top two lines.

This points to the logjam the Flyers have at the forward position.

Realistically, Briere and Jaromir Jagr need to play in the top-six. Although they have struggled over the past few weeks, their offensive capabilities are by-and-far superior to the defensive contributions they would make in the bottom-six.

Even though Simmonds and Talbot deserve the minutes, the team is better served putting them in the bottom pairings. Ideally, Simmonds would be paired with Brayden Schenn and Matt Read on the third line while Talbot would join Couturier and Rinaldo on the fourth.

The result would be a defensively minded, hard-hitting third line capable of quick zone transitions and a high-energy, hard-hitting, defensively responsible fourth line.

This leaves a top-six that can be developed out of any combination of Briere, Giroux, James van Reimsdyk, Jakub Voracek, Jaromir Jagr and Scott Hartnell.  

The key moving into March is going to be to find line combinations that work. While it’s true that lines change based on game scenarios, it’s also important that the team has standard lines that they can fall back on.

With the playoffs just around the corner, the Flyers need to find some consistency in their line combinations.

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