After just three games, Lindy Ruff is switching up the lines and looking for the right combination to get Dallas where they need to be. The Stars have made several line up changes since last season and it is quite apparent that everyone is still getting comfortable with each other on the ice.
Ruff is attempting to find the best utilization of new forwards Patrick Sharp and Mattias Janmark, while Val Nichushkin is also still a work-in-progress after missing most of last season. Here were the forward lines through the first two games of the season:
Jamie Benn – Cody Eakin – Tyler Seguin
Val Nichushkin – Jason Spezza – Patrick Sharp
Travis Moen – Vernon Fiddler – Patrick Eaves
Antoine Roussel – Mattias Janmark – Ales Hemsky
Through two games, the best line at even-strength had been the Roussel/Janmark/Hemsky trio and it wasn’t close. They had combined for six points and 11 shots on goal in the first two games and had the best even-strength possession numbers on the team.
Hemsky, Roussel and Janmark had posted early corsi-for percentages at 69.7, 69.4 and 66.7, respectively. This is all while getting the fewest offensive zone starts on the team and not getting a ton of ice-time in relation to the rest of the team. Due to their strong play early in the season, it appears they will all be moved up the lineup. Here were the new lines implemented for the third game of the season:
Jamie Benn – Tyler Seguin – Patrick Eaves
Antoine Roussel – Jason Spezza – Patrick Sharp
Mattias Janmark – Cody Eakin – Ales Hemsky
Travis Moen – Vernon Fiddler – Colton Sceviour
Nichushkin being scratched shouldn’t be too concerning as it is clear he still needs time to get going. Eaves was injured early the other night and likely will be missing for a few weeks. Curtis McKenzie has been called up to fill that void after narrowly being edged out of an opening night spot by Janmark. Here are the likely lines for the fourth game of the season, against the Tampa Bay Lightning:
Jamie Benn – Tyler Seguin – Patrick Sharp
Antoine Roussel – Jason Spezza – Ales Hemsky
Mattias Janmark – Cody Eakin – Colton Sceviour
Curtis McKenzie – Vernon Fiddler – Travis Moen
Hemsky continues to move up the lineup which is a great sign, especially considering his disappointing season a year ago. One thing we have learned about Ruff is he is not afraid to mix people up throughout the week and throughout a single game. He is still looking for the right combination of forward lines to take the Stars over the top and give them a balanced approach to both offense and defense.
One thing that has remained consistent are the defensive pairs being used. Klingberg and Goligoski have barely spent any time apart. Oduya and Demers have been consistently matched up and the Jokipakka and Benn combination have formed a solid bottom-pairing unit as well.
As far as possession is concerned, the Oduya/Demers pairing has been the worst but they are still sitting in the positive end of the possession meter. As long as those performances continue, I wouldn’t expect much change to occur on defense.
Ultimately, injuries and poor play will force changes throughout the season. Ruff does seem to juggle lines and players around a little more frequently than the average coach, but that appears to be for good reason. The Stars cannot afford to get off to a slow start again so every player and every line will have a short leash, especially early in the season. As Ruff says, the lines will usually work themselves out as the season progresses.