The Ducks generated an encouraging quantity of scoring chances up and down the four lines in last night's win against Minnesota. The line combinations were as follows:
The big sell on the Ducks this year is that they have the scoring depth to overcome new holes on defense, holes made bigger by the latest injury to Wisniewski. Arthur, the finishing wasn't quite there tonight, but do you think Carlyle has finally found his lines, or is there juggling still to be done?
Carlyle recently said that the juggling is a misconception. He intends to keep Getzlaf and Perry together, keep Selanne and Koivu together and maybe keep Marchant and Artyukhin together. Beyond those pairs, moving one guy from line to line doesn't constitute juggling in his mind, and he plans to rotate wingers for the rest of the year.
And I really don't see desperation in Carlyle's juggling until those key pairs are broken up. The genius of his system is that wingers are fighting to earn their place. Lupul and Christensen are capable of Top 6 play, but they have to forecheck and play well defensively on the third line to earn time on Koivu or Getzlaf's line. And the increased flexibility doesn't exactly hurt the other wingers. Bobby Ryan plays well with Selanne and Koivu. And Artyukhin adds a completely different wrinkle to the first line. At the end of the day, it's all about production.
With this lineup, Carlyle can rotate the hot hand in and out of his Top 6, while still keeping the central chemistry of each line intact. But I think he'll still use the healthy scratch as a coaching tool, and we may yet see his seven defensemen lineup. But for now, he has a pair of players inked in for the top three lines; everyone else is written in pencil.
I can see how the core pairs are sticking together, but I still have a main concern over the player shifting that is taking place. Primarily that it doesn't allow a line to permanently gel. Last year, Perry-Getzlaf-Kunitz was a good line, but the top line didn't become dominant until the salary cap issues were worked out and Ryan became a fixture on that wing. Sometimes, it's the third piece that completes the puzzle, and if that piece is constantly moving, the ability to predict your linemates moves might never develop.
This also puts Lupul in a very awkward situation. Lupul has improved his defensive game so much that you'd think someone lied to him and told him he could win a Selke. But last night he continued to make smart outlets with the puck and generate offense on the PK, in addition to a solid night with the rest of his linemates. But his cap hit is over $4 million, and while the pressure that Marchant and Artyukhin produce on the D can generate scoring opportunities, it probably won't be enough to produce the 30 goals needed to justify his salary. Granted, it's early and the power play woes tonight had more to do with Backstrom's outstanding saves than any deficiency in finishing, but I don't think Lupul will get enough power play time to make up for the shortage in ice time that comes with being on a third line. As it stands, Lupul is the most expensive PK specialist/energy player in the league.
Furthermore, I agree Christensen can play with the Top 6,. He was flying tonight. Selanne and Koivu seemed to have a great sense of where he was on the ice, and he launched a couple of dangerous shots towards Backstrom. It's just that none of them found the back of the net. Still, he showed an ability to be in the right place at the right time, as well as smart defensive play. Maybe playing with Selanne and Koivu will bring back the spirit of the 18-goal scorer who played in Pittsburgh a couple years ago.