Since the Calgary Flames added Tyler Toffoli onto their roster, they suddenly had a new area of improvement that they’re still working on fixing: figuring on their third line. With Toffoli in the mix, they’ve had the luxury of experimenting with their line combinations, and this is a good problem to have. How should the third line actually look? We asked, you answered.
Calgary’s third line options
There have been a few different third line options for Calgary over the past few games. To see how these lines have compared to one another, we’ll turn to NaturalStatTrick.com to look at their on-ice performances.
The four third line options are as follows:
|Andrew Mangiapane||Adam Ruzicka||Dillon Dube|
|Andrew Mangiapane||Adam Ruzicka||Tyler Toffoli|
|Milan Lucic||Sean Monahan||Tyler Toffoli|
|Trevor Lewis||Sean Monahan||Tyler Toffoli|
For the intents and purposes of this post, we won’t explore the impacts on the second and fourth lines given the third lines presented, but rather just compare how each third line has actually performed.
This third line of Andrew Mangiapane, Adam Ruzicka, and Dillon Dube was put together for the Flames’ 5–4 loss against the Washington Capitals.
Here’s how the trio performed at 5v5, score- and venue-adjusted.
Turning to HockeyViz.com’s 5v5 Matchups visualisation, it’s seen that this line played primarily against Connor McMichael, Lars Eller, and Conor Sheary and was not effective against them. However, they were slightly more when facing other lines. Unfortunately, Sutter’s line matching against Washington didn’t bode well for the Flames trio.
The single game sample size makes it hard to know if they’d be better given more time to build chemistry, but it’s still not great to see favourable usage turn into unfavourable results.
As of late, Mangiapane and Ruzicka have played with a new linemate in Toffoli. This third line combination has been used for a few games now, first against the Edmonton Oilers, then again versus the Tampa Bay Lightning, and now most recently against the Detroit Red Wings. Perhaps this is a third line that Sutter is happy with, as it’s been getting a few extra looks.
Despite making appearances as a line across three games, this line’s ice time together has been limited. However, they’ve been incredible as a unit. They’ve been effective in all three games without a bad showing. In the Flames game against the Lightning, they had just a 25.00 OZS%, but were still well above water with a 63.66 xGF%.
This line has been excellent, plain and simple.
Ahead of tonight’s contest, the bookies have predicted the Flames as the underdog, with Betway Sports pricing the Calgary Flames at +190 and the Colorado Avalanche at -110 to win the game in regulation, with an overtime decision being priced at +340.
Toffoli has had other linemates too. He played with Milan Lucic and Sean Monahan for six games in a row prior to the move to put him with Ruzicka and Mangiapane. When playing with Lucic and Monahan, the line was not super effective at creating scoring chances. While they were defensively above water (and it wasn’t by a large margin), their offence generation left a lot to be desired.
The line had one good game during Calgary’s second matchup against the Minnesota Wild, posting 71.02 xGF% with a 33.33 OZS%. Every other game saw them below 50% in terms of expected goals. Strangely, their most maligned game was the first meeting against the Wild—despite putting up 72.67 CF%, their expected goals crated at 36.35 xGF%, and that was with 85.71 OZS%.
That’s a pretty good indication that even when the line is effective at being in the offensive zone, the offence that they generate is relatively ineffective, likely riddled with low-danger shots. There was often discussion points on how this line might be one of the slowest skating lines in the league, and that definitely plays into both the low quality offence and defence.
For the last line, it hasn’t been used in any game yet, as they’ve been on the ice for a total of 1:07 together, meaning it was only in transition. However, it was one worth exploring given that Monahan and Trevor Lewis have had a good chunk of minutes together this season, and the line could in theory be fairly effective on defence, fitting quite nicely into the Darryl Sutter system.
However, as it stands, it seems unlikely that this line will come to fruition as Toffoli would be coming in to try and lift up his linemates, which isn’t the best use of his skillset whatsoever.
We can go ahead and assume this line combination is out of the books.
Lining up Calgary’s options
Essentially, the Flames have had the opportunity to configure and reconfigure their bottom-six in both an experimental manner and optimising exercise. They might be content with playing the Mangiapane-Ruzicka-Toffoli line for much longer, or they can tweak it with a new combination once again.
As mentioned, this is a good problem to have at this point, as line shuffling isn’t something done cause they are losing, but it’s done cause they have the in-game capacity to experiment.
Who should play on Calgary’s third line? Let us know in the comments below or on Twitter @wincolumnCGY.
Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images