We are over a month into the season and Elias Lindholm has struggled of late, along with the majority of the Calgary Flames. The former Selke finalist was expected to have somewhat of a slow start after loosing both of his 100+ point linemates from last season, but I don’t think many people expecting this much decline early on.
I’m not saying cenering a line with an all-star playmaker and all-star goal scorer is easy, but it has to be a lot less stressful than trying to drive the play on a line with a new all-star and a slow trigger man. As we all know, Lindholm started the season in between new addition Jonathan Huberdeau and last year’s gold label midseason acquisition, Tyler Toffoli, making for a line that has not quite gelled yet.
Lindholm has shown success on the power play but has only posted two goals and three assists at 5v5 after adding a nice tip-in for a score against the Islanders in the Flames’ latest setback.
Quick line comparisons
Huberdeau – Lindholm – Toffoli
The trio has played 10 games together combining for one goal which came on Monday night in Long Island. The three’s CF% over their first nine games (excluding Monday night) was 51.52%, sitting 80th overall when compared to other forward lines across the league with a minimum of 30 minutes on ice. All data is from Evolving-Hockey.com.
Lucic – Lindholm – Toffoli
Beyond Huberdeau, the duo of Lindholm and Toffoli have seen time in eight games with Milan Lucic, showing a lot more success on the stat sheet and in advanced metrics.
Slotting Lucic in for Huberdeau increased the line’s CF% to 61.36% and their GF/60 at 5.55. Now these are top among the teams line combinations. Note that minimum TOI for this comparison was adjusted to 20 minutes.
Now, take these stats with a grain of salt. Although this does suggest evidence that the problem may lay in Lindholm’s newly acquired linemate when comparing the two, you have to remember the Lucic combination has played a third as much as the Huberdeau line. But, when you play with better players, you expect better numbers. This just hasn’t been the case yet.
It might be time to start winging it
At 5v5, Huberdeau, Lindholm, and Toffoli has been nothing shy of a waste of time in my opinion.
However, an option that hasn’t been explored yet is moving Lindholm to the wing. Lindholm has had experience playing the wing in the past. His first two years with the Flames involved playing games on the wing under former head coach Bill Peters. Lindholm’s initial season with franchise in 2018–19 was his best statistical 5v5 season outside of last year’s time on the top line.
In 2018–19, Lindholm posted a 55.5 CF% at 5v5 compared to 2021–22 Lindholm at 56.3%. His 5v5 P/60 numbers in 2019 compared closely to 2022 at 2.1 and 2.5 respectively.
Although it was in a different system with some different teammates, a change of scenery might be what the 10-year veteran needs.
Getting Lindholm going again
What will it take to get Lindholm to perform at his A-game? Confidence.
Lindholm needs to get his mojo back at 5v5—along with the rest of the team. Lindholm had the most expectation of a returning forward entering the year in my opinion. That weighs heavy on a first line centre going from one of the league’s best lines—arguably the most offensively dominant line in franchise history—to having two brand new linemates after a turbulent offseason.
Jolting the top lines by moving Lindholm to the wing could lead to success. What do the Flames need most right now? Wingers. If Lindholm moves to the outside he could look nice next to Nazem Kadri and Huberdeau. Throw all your eggs in one basket and force Huberdeau to drive the line’s play like he did last season with Florida.
If Lindholm can’t centre a line then he needs to be playing with a pass-heavy, offensive-focused linemate. The alternative could be entertaining an ultimate two-way forward line with Mikael Backlund centring Lindholm and either Blake Coleman or Milan Lucic.
A change of pace has the potential to really open up opportunities for the Swede and it might take more than swapping out one linemate. A refreshed approach to the 5v5 offence not only fills a gap in the Flames early season depth charts, but could be the secret ingredient to bring together the whole recipe for 2022–23.
Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire