It’s not a common occurrence to see Carolina Hurricanes head coach Kirk Muller mess with the lines and pairings. Sometimes he’ll make huge sweeping changes to deal with an injury, or change things up for one or two shifts — most of the time lines are just how they are and that’s that.
In Monday’s embarrassing loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, Muller began playing with lines late in the third period. Obviously, this was a moment of desperation, as Carolina was getting absolutely demolished on both ends. A couple of the lines he put on the ice could very well have been high-output lines if given a chance to develop chemistry, though.
A perusal of the Hurricanes’ published depth charts on Wednesday afternoon will reveal an acute case of same ol’, same ol’. While these lines have great potential and theoretically make sense, Carolina isn’t playing theoretical hockey. This is real life, and in real life, the lines aren’t working.
The top line of Jiri Tlusty, Eric Staal and Alexander Semin, for all intents and purposes, should be one of the top-10 producing lines in the NHL. Surprise, they aren’t. While Staal might be the resident wunderkind in the face-off circle, the line isn’t producing. Staal is skating at a -8, which means only that he is not paired up anywhere correctly. He’s shooting 7.9 percent and only taking an average of 3.2 shots per game. That’s not playing to his potential.
Semin, on the other hand, could be a serious threat on the top line. There’s no reason he and Staal couldn’t shake-and-bake their way to the top of the team points leaders. For some reason, they just aren’t clicking.
It’s a no-brainer to leave Semin and Tlusty together. However, there’s no reason whatsoever not to move current bang-bang offensive machine Nathan Gerbe up to this line; let him try center out for a change, and see if some magic happens. Staal being a lefty could take over Gerbe’s left wing on the second line with his brother Jordan Staal and Pat Dwyer. This line could, and has worked.
Over on the third line, another opportunity for greatness lurks. Jeff Skinner hands down belongs with Riley Nash and Elias Lindholm. This has, can and will work. Three young guys, all strong skaters, great chemistry. Skinner, who should be off of the injured reserve after this weekend, per team reports, needs to anchor a line like this and soon. Moving Tuomo Ruutu back to the fourth line with Brett Sutter and Radek Dvorak, will make the world a happy place again.
Power play units should be torn up and start from scratch.
Gerbe, Lindholm and Semin on the PP1 unit is a grease fire and needs to go. Gerbe is flash plus hustle and belongs with more solid passers. Moving the younger Staal brother, Jordan, up to the PP1 unit to center him, Gerbe and perhaps Skinner, is an experiment that should be tried.
The back end on the man advantage is horrific, as well. Dropping Andrej Sekera from the PP2 line, and maybe the man advantage all together, and replacing him with Ron Hainsey might work out. With the elder Staal playing the back end on PP1, leaving shoot-first Ryan Murphy should suffice.
There is nothing wrong with experimenting. Muller would be wise to yahtzee up his lines a bit and see what happens. Every time a new line comes out, he immediately reverts to the previous lines at the first sign of trouble. When a chef does this, Gordon Ramsay curses at them.
With the Tampa Bay Lightning coming into town on Friday, showing a new look might end up being the difference Carolina needs.