James O'Brien

Changing on the Go

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Line Changes: Seize the Moment

Tuesday, January 17, 2017


Capitals and Penguins fans will probably disagree with this, but goodness, would I ever love to see another playoff series between these two teams after watching their last few games. People grumble about talk of this rivalry because people grumble about EVERYTHING on the Internet - there might be some truth to the notion that there's a "Boy who cried wolf" element to the complaining, as it dulls the impact when there are legit things to gripe about - yet how can you ignore the bad feelings and competitive fire between these two teams?


It's absurd that it would likely be a first or second-round matchup if Washington and Pittsburgh do meet in the upcoming playoffs, but as a greedy hockey fan, I'll take it.


Honestly, with the NHL still sort of grappling with more modern ideas regarding deployment, attacking and transition, it might just be flat-out crucial to the league to have a great Capitals - Penguins series.


Anyway, this intro doesn’t have really anything to do with line changes, so let’s switch gears.


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-- Ryan Getzlaf returned to the Ducks' lineup on Jan. 12, and he's been maintaining his steady stream of points (in the case of his three games back, all single-assist outputs) as if he never needed an injury break.


The Ducks are loading up with this pretty healthy lineup, putting Getzlaf with Corey Perry and Rickard Rakell while maintaining some pretty solid combinations beyond that. Fantasy owners should be happy.


-- The Bruins might be without two the Millers on defense, as both Colin Miller and Kevan Miller appear to be a little banged-up. In the case of Colin, he hasn't played since Jan. 10.


In doing a little research on the two, I find it remarkable how similar their (minimal) impacts seem to be on the Bruins. Kevan scored 18 points last season; Colin had 16 in just 42 games. Even if Colin has more potential to score, that hasn't really happened much this season. Colin Miller has six points in 34 games while Kevan has three. It seems like Kevan might have Claude Julien's trust by a bit, as he's averaging 17:15 TOI per game to Colin's 16:33.


The Bruins' D pairs actually don't look too bad without Miller time:


Zdeno Chara - Brandon Carlo

Torey Krug - Adam McQuaid

Joe Morrow - John-Michael Liles


Not exactly all-world, but solid enough considering the loss of two depth options.


-- After missing 30 games with a groin injury, Tyler Ennis made a rather triumphant return to the Sabres' lineup on Monday, collecting a goal as Buffalo beat Dallas.


In the past two seasons when he's managed to be healthy, the undersized winger has come in around 20 goals and 43-46 points.


That's not going to change the Sabres' outlook altogether, yet he is a nice co-pilot for a top line of Ryan O'Reilly and Kyle Okposo.


It allows the Sabres to play for matchups ever so slightly for Jack Eichel (with Sam Reinhart and Marcus Foligno) and bumps up some depth considering Evander Kane's placement on the third line.


Again, Buffalo has a ways to go to really be a threat on a steady basis, but a healthier lineup makes you wonder if we're closer to the light at the end of the tunnel.


-- Bah gawd, that's Ondrej Pavelec's music! /glass breaks


I don't often discuss goalies in this space, but I felt the need to bring up the oft-critiqued netminder's name at least once. For all we know, we may not hear much about Pavelec going forward.


Did you miss him? (Jets fans are grumbling even more than usual right now.)


 -- I'm slightly bummed to see Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau split up for Calgary, although their alignments (Monahan with Kris Versteeg and Troy Brouwer, Gaudreau alongside Sean Bennett and Alex Chiasson) seem reasonable enough.


Really, though, the MMM Line staying intact (Matthew Tkachuk, Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik) is all I can really ask for. Well, that and other people adopting that nickname. Come on, we need a Campbell's soup reference for hockey player nicknames that goes beyond calling every Campbell "Soupy." Get on it.


-- Matt Nieto's getting quite the opportunity to make an impression with the Avalanche, as he's receiving a plum gig on a line with trade targets Gabriel Landeskog and Matt Duchene. That showed most clearly on Jan. 14, when Nieto collecting an assist in 17:03 TOI. His other 17+ minute night happened on Jan. 6, when he received 17:29 of ice time, his first game with the Avalanche.


Nothing about his career stats really jump out at you, although I do have to give him some credit for being pretty eager to shoot relative to his typically underwhelming ice time during his San Jose days.


Short version: this is his chance to show what he can do, and it's a pretty good chance at that.


-- Speaking of getting your SOG in despite medium-level ice time, Andreas Athanasiou is doing just that for the Red Wings. Check his last five games played:


Jan. 16: three SOG in 15:32 TOI, no points

Jan. 14: two SOG in 14:49, one goal

Jan. 12: four SOG in 15:31, no points

Jan. 10: two SOG in 15:05, one goal

Jan. 7: four SOG in 14:30, one goal and one assist


He sure seems to be harnessing his speed for a decent output lately, as things seem to be clicking for him with Frans Nielsen and Thomas Vanek. You almost have to wonder if Detroit would be wise to give him, say, an extra shift per period or something.


-- I actually like what I see from the Stars' alignment of forwards, but maybe things are just coming together too late? Not many teams can boast the sort of depth where you can place Patrick Sharp - even a Sharp who isn't 100 percent - on your fourth line.


Maybe Dallas can figure things out a bit soon? The clock is ticking.


-- Loui Eriksson has been getting the call to move alongside the Sedin twins more recently, helping to set the table for his goal in his last game (against the Devils on Jan. 15). He also has seven SOG in his past two games and is getting plenty of ice time, arguably too much.


It's a bit surprising that the Canucks won't at least experiment with running Alex Burrows back with the Sedins, as the underlying numbers on that combination have worked well in the past. I'm not saying there'd be any magic solution, but it seems a little weird that he's only played 18:13 with Henrik Sedin and 13:09 with Daniel Sedin overall this season. Compare that to Bo Horvat (354:03 with) and Sven Baertschi (305:12).


-- Vladislav Namestnikov has been the center for Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov lately. While he hasn't scored a point in the last two games, he had a three-game point streak (and four points in five games) before that.


It's odd seeing Tyler Johnson as a third-line center, but this could make for solid depth in Tampa Bay if they can work it all out.


-- What can we really say about Nail Yakupov at this point? What kind of relevance will he have in the league going forward.


His linemates look great on paper (Jori Lehtera, Vladimir Tarasenko), but Yakupov's limited ice time makes me wonder if he'll be able to break his slump anytime soon. He's gone seven games without a point and has just one goal in his past 11 games. He also only has two points since Oct. 25.


Hard to shake the impression that Yakupov's one of the biggest busts in recent draft history. Even for what seemed like a bland year, he's really not finding much of a place right now.


Maybe he ends up being a solid, low-risk gamble for the Golden Knights?


-- You know, with the Flyers struggling mightily at the moment, why not put Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek back together for a little while? Those guys had such good chemistry that, at one point, I'm fairly certain they were actually melting into the same person.


(Changing on the Go is definitely the most scientific line changes column on Rotoworld. Mark it down, dude.)



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.
Email :James O'Brien



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