Holy Mackinaw! In his 20th season of calling the action of the blue and white, Joe Bowen is the definitive voice of the Maple Leafs. You can listen to Joe do the play-by-play on Leafs TV and radio broadcasts and now you can get his insights on the what's happening with the team.
One of the most difficult things a coach has to do is come up with line combinations. Coaches sit with pad and pen and pour over their roster time and time again to try and come up with four lines that they feel will produce.
The problem with each team, and subsequently with the coach selecting lines, is the overall talent of the team and how a coach wants to attack the opposition. For a few years in Anaheim, Teemu Selanne and Paul Kariya were united, putting all of the Mighty Ducks eggs in one basket. While the two star forwards produced decent numbers the lack of depth on the Ducks roster made it impossible for them to be successful. If Kariya and Selanne didn't light up the game the Ducks were doomed.
This season Pat Quinn has a different problem but none less challenging. He has an abundance of talent up front but has been trying to tinker with line combinations to provide a more balanced attack.
The Tre Kroner unit of Mats Sundin, Mikael Renberg and Jonas Hoglund has remained in tact pretty much since the start of the season. Free agent acquisition Alexander Mogilny has not played many regular shifts with the Leafs captain and top scorer this year although many felt it might be a magical match.
Instead, Quinn has tinkered with his second and third units. Against the Stanley Cup Champion Colorado Avalanche on Saturday, Quinn broke up those two lines and juggled them. He placed hard-nosed Gary Roberts on a unit with Robert Reichel and Darcy Tucker, while he elevated Alyn McCauley from the fourth unit to centre Mogilny and Shayne Corson.
When trying to come up with combinations a coach looks at the players strengths and weaknesses and tries to arrange for the three to compliment each other and therefore be productive.
It seemed that in playing with Mogilny and Reichel, Roberts was not being nearly as effective as he was last year. Both of those new linemates like to reach the offensive zone and stop up, while Roberts is a player who drives the net and works the end boards. Placing Roberts with Reichel and Tucker now provides Roberts with another grinder to work with and the line seemed to hit it off immediately with Reichel ending a scoring drought and the line generating a number of chances.
Mogilny meanwhile seemed to enjoy playing with McCauley and Corson and was getting chances off the rush as well as when the three cycled the puck down low in the offensive zone.
The fourth line had Tie Domi working with Travis Green and Gary Valk. The latter two get additional ice time killing penalties and Tie provides the robust play that can swing the game's momentum.
On paper, the lines look like they should provide Quinn with the balanced attack that he so desires, but like anything else in hockey, the combinations will stay together only as long as they continue to produce. If not, it's back to the blackboard and the juggling act resumes.