After a 5–1–0 start, the Calgary Flames seem to be facing their first set of adversity in the season. The team shuffled their lines, moving Nazem Kadri and Andrew Mangiapane up with Jonathan Huberdeau, and moving Milan Lucic with Elias Lindholm and Tyler Toffoli. The results were not great, and it looks like The Flames are in limbo when it comes to finding a top line that works well. So, which pair of players should be joining Jonathan Huberdeau on the top line? We asked, you answered.
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Back to the drawing board
The Flames initially started off with Huberdeau, Lindholm, and Toffoli on the top line. And although the performance wasn’t horrendous, it wasn’t anything to write home about. In fact, it seemed like the main benefit of having those three on the top line was having Mangiapane, Kadri, and Dube as the second line as they were by far the best line for the team.
However, after the team mixed up the lines, it seemed like both lines in the top-six just could not find any chemistry. They struggled to maintain possession and the scoring chances just couldn’t be converted. The team learned the hard way that shuffling lines is a delicate mix of trying to spark chemistry, but also trying not to ruin what has already been working well. So with that to consider, who should be joining Huberdeau on the top line?
In addition to the options listed, we also received suggestions of having Lindholm with Dube, or having Kadri and Lindholm.
Kadri and Mangiapane
This is the first line we saw the Flames switch to when they mixed things up. On paper, this seems like a line that should be very speedy, and should create a ton of chances and offensive pressure. Huberdeau gets to pass to a left-handed shooter in Mangiapane, Kadri can drive the play, and Mangiapane can do what he does best and score goals. It should work, right? Well when they did deploy this line, the results were not great as they had a 46.34% CF, and an xGF of just 23.75% at 5v5. Now albeit it is a small sample size as they only played 20 minutes of 5v5 together, and during this time the whole team looked awful, but those results are not great. More ice time would be needed in order to fully know what this line could bring.
Kadri and Toffoli
In making this change, it would be fair to think that the team believes Lindholm is the factor that is holding the top line back. However, I truly don’t think that is the case. Lindholm hasn’t looked terrific, but he also takes on a lot more duties on that top line than the wingers. In making this change, Kadri would be bringing more play in the dirty areas and would overall just increase the snarl per 60 (Sn/60) for the top line, however, the real question is whether Toffoli will be able to get going on the top line too. From what we have seen, it looks like Toffoli’s slower skating might be a contributing factor in the top line’s slow start.
Lindholm and Mangiapane
Ever since before the season started, I have been hoping the Flames would give this line a shot. Slotting in Mangiapane on the right side would open up opportunities for Huberdeau to feed him one-timers, and Lindholm would be skating with a faster line. Mangiapane managed to score 35 goals on the second line last year, I can only imagine how many he would score with Lindholm and Huberdeau skating with him.
Lindholm and Toffoli
Does the line just need more time to build some chemistry? Honestly, this could absolutely be the case. Toffoli is getting a much bigger role compared to last season, Lindholm is skating with two new wingers, and Huberdeau’s career in Calgary has just started. Though they didn’t look phenomenal, I think it would be fair to say that the line seemed to be getting better as time went on. I know I saw a big improvement in Toffoli’s game recently, despite his slower speed. Maybe the only thing they need to get going is time.
Need for stability
One thing is certain, the Flames can not be mixing up their top two lines all season. The team needs to find out a solution for the top line, and once they do, they need to stick with it for the long haul. The chemistry between linemates can not be built if the combinations keep changing after every couple of games. We are still early in the season, so let’s see how the Flames decide to approach this issue.