Jeff Skinner, Victor Rask and Lee Stempniak have all of eight games’ experience playing alongside each other, but the Carolina Hurricanes’ top line look like they’ve been playing together for years.
The Canes’ top line has accounted for nearly half of the team’s total offensive output, and while Rask’s personal eight-game point streak was snapped with his first scoreless game of the season on Tuesday in Ottawa, the trio has been the engine that has largely powered the Canes to the admittedly limited success they’ve seen in the early going.
So with that in mind, should the Canes consider breaking up their most successful players?
Bill Peters tipped his hand a bit today, when Elias Lindholm was promoted to the right wing with Skinner and Rask at practice and Stempniak, who is without a point in his last four games, dropping to Jordan Staal’s wing. However, we were planning on doing this article anyway before that news broke, so why waste a perfectly good topic?
The question: Should the Canes keep the Skinner/Rask/Stempniak trio together and ride the hot hands, or break them up to try to get the rest of the lineup going?
The Case for Keeping The Line Together
Bluntly, you don’t mess with success. The Canes are having trouble enough keeping the puck out of their own net, and their only two wins this season have come in large part because of the performance of the top line.
On top of that, we’re nine games into the season. Every line has new faces on it, and while some line juggling is to be expected, wholesale changes prevent any cohesion from taking root. Ask Noah Hanifin, who has played with three different defensive partners already this season.
How long have the Canes been searching for a top line that is a threat to score anytime they’re on the ice? Skinner scored 63 points the year he won the Calder Trophy, but injuries have limited his effectiveness over the years. He’s finally fully healthy, and as the Canes’ sole true goal-scoring threat, the Canes owe it to him to keep him in his comfort zone.
There are obviously players further down the lineup who need to get going. Teuvo Teravainen, Lindholm, Andrej Nestrasil - I’m looking at you. But Peters faces a tough balancing act of keeping things working that are going well while fixing things that aren’t. It’s not an easy charge, but he’s paid handsomely to do it. The easy way out is to break up the Rask line. That should be the last resort, and ten games into the season, it’s too early to play that card.
The Case for Breaking the Line Up
Elias Lindholm: 1 point. Teuvo Teravainen and Jordan Staal: 3 points each. Joakim Nordstrom: 2 points.
The rest of the Canes’ lineup is in a bad way right now, and what better way to get them going than to spread the wealth around?
Eventually, the goaltending is going to come around. (Please, dear lord baby Jesus, let it be so.) When it does, you don’t want to run the risk of having one line run aground and the other three lines still not performing up to snuff. The Rask line can’t stay hot forever, and in fact it may already be cooling off; Stempniak is without a point in four straight, and Rask and Skinner just went pointless for the first time all season in the same game in Ottawa.
The last thing the Canes need is going from needing to outscore the opposition to overcome shaky goaltending to getting solid play in net and not being able to hit water from a boat at the other end. You replace one problem with another, and what do you have? That’s right: a problem.
Not to mention, the longer the Skinner/Rask/Stempniak combination stays together, the more film opposition teams get, and the easier it becomes to defend them. Breaking them up gives opponents a different look and keeps them off balance. Peters knows this, and knows that he can’t allow his offense to become complacent.
For the sake of every forward on the roster, the Canes owe it to them to spread the wealth and try to get the other guys going by breaking up their one solid line.
So which side is right? You be the coach: do you leave them alone or share the wealth?