As mentioned before on this very site, I’m a fan of Pat Riley and his mantra of interchangeable pieces. Pat Riley won everywhere he went, and is one of the best five or six basketball coaches ever to walk an NBA sideline. Having depth and versatility is the key to sustaining pressure and avoiding mismatches in any sport. Hockey is no different.
The acquisitions of Andrei Kostitsyn, Paul Gaustad, and the mid-season additions of Gabriel Bourque & Brandon Yip have bolstered the depth of a team that sorely needed it. But even after the subtraction of Mr. Predator himself, Jerred Smithson, their remains an issue of only 12 forward spots available. That’s not changing. Even though this is real head-scratcher, the coaching staff much prefers this issue as opposed to not being able to field 12 solid options (as in years in the past).
Firstly, the top line (if you choose to call them that) of Sergei Kostitsyn, Mike Fisher, and Martin Erat is not changing. When Sergei starts using his shot more, this line could be even more of a headache than normal, and that’s a very encouraging thought. But after that, there are some real options. David Legwand has shown some decent chemistry with Patric Hornqvist, and Colin Wilson at times. The addition of Andrei Kostitsyn may force Wilson down to the third line, which could benefit him greatly. At his best, Wilson plays a similar game to Chris Stewart of the Blues- a smooth skating power forward that creates his own chances. Andrei is a shooter, and body checks at will; which may be a better fit for the playmaking Legwand and garbage patrolman Hornqvist.
Per Tom Callahan earlier today, Andrei will be slotted with Legwand and Hornqvist, so we’ll see if it makes as much sense on the ice as it does on paper.
Moving onto the third line, Nick Spaling has done everything he’s asked to do. Jordin Tootoo has evolved into a decent offensive weapon playing on the checking line, largely due to the positioning and forechecking of Spaling. Adding Wilson into the mix on this line gives them another guy who skates the puck solidly, and take shots. Tootoo’s game now includes a very creative eye for passing, so adding a finisher to this line sounds a bit exciting.
Tonight in Florida, it is Gabriel Bourque that will skate alongside Paul Gaustad and Brandon Yip. Interesting, since this leaves Craig Smith out of the picture (also Matt Halischuk, who has the flu. Not the KleinFlu, or the LightningFlu, just the flu. Allegedly.) in the lineup. While he’s been mired in a slump since the infamous miss against the Maple Leafs on the empty net, he’s due for a breakout. And even more curious since he can now be moved back to wing without as much defensive responsibility which is definitely not his strong suit. It also freezes out Brian McGrattan who was recently removed from IR. Welcome back, Big Ern.
It’s going to be a real test of line chemistry over the next few weeks, with Craig Smith, Matt Halischuk, and Brandon Yip competing for ice time. Gabriel Bourque has forced his way onto the ice (even played some top six minutes in the absence of Hornqvist), and his speed is a valuable asset.
Remember last year when you couldn’t fathom the team scratching a 10+ goal scorer at this time of the season? That’s what is about to happen.