Could big lineup changes help Anaheim come back against L.A.?

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After dropping the first two games of the second round to the Los Angeles Kings in Anaheim, Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau has a lot to think about before Game 3 at the Staples Center. Chief among those thoughts is whether or not to make lineup changes, and if so, who will play and who will come out.

The rumblings around the team throughout the year were that Saku Koivu and Teemu Selanne have been pretty vocal in wanting more minutes and more responsibilities. One of Boudreau’s biggest challenges has been managing the expectations of aging guys and getting the organization’s younger core players into the lineup. It’s a pretty normal dance, by the way — nobody really thinks there are issues in the room. Young guys don’t have any voice in this stuff, as they have to prove their worth on the ice. Older guys have earned that, and they have earned the right to express their opinions regarding their roles because of how they have found success before or want to find it now. This doesn’t mean the coaches listen.

Debora Robinson/Getty Images

Debora Robinson/Getty Images NHL

Boudreau has shown in his history that he’ll entertain all conversations but will ultimately do what he thinks gives his team the best chance to win. His decisions about his roster going into Game 3 need to be focused exclusively on that and not on appeasing anyone’s desires.

Waiting in the wings right now are Daniel Winnik, Kyle Palmieri, Rickard Rakell and Luca Sbisa. There are a couple ways Boudreau could go about getting some of these guys into the lineup — there’s the most likely route he’ll take and then there’s the route I think he should take.

The easy (or most likely) route

  • Winnik has been “effective” as either a third-line winger on the checking line with Koivu as well as when centering the fourth line at times between various wingers. Penciling him in for Jakob Silfverberg or Devante Smith-Pelly is the most basic swap. Alternatively, having him center the fourth line — which would push Nick Bonino to the left wing slot on the top line left wing — is a possibility.
    • My take: Both Silfverberg and Smith-Pelly should be playing. Silfverberg has been a complete, hard-working player all year on a line with Koivu. It is difficult to look at his skillset and think he’s been used effectively in an offensive role, and that offense could be helpful in pulling out a win at Staples. Smith-Pelly has been the best (i.e., most consistent) forward on the roster since his addition to the lineup. In the first two games, he had the best looks and the worst luck. Sitting a guy for unluckiness is always silly. I’d add Winnik to the lineup, but not by sitting either guy.
  • Palmieri has been a largely inconsistent wildcard guy who can sometimes make an impact on the scoresheet, but otherwise doesn’t make a big difference in games. Swapping him for Emerson Etem makes the most sense. That is, unless Boudreau wants to stir the pot again and sit Selanne.
    • My take: Palmieri in for Etem is fine — they are too similar a player at this point to have strong opinion on, one way or another. Palmieri and Etem in with Selanne sitting is ideal but won’t happen.
Debora Robinson/Getty Images NHL

Debora Robinson/Getty Images NHL

  • Rakell is the future second-line center in Anaheim. There’s some belief that he could eventually become a top line guy down the road — far down that road, when Ryan Getzlaf has retired and works in the front office. He should already be playing, but Boudreau likes size against the Kings, and Rakell doesn’t have much in that department yet. He could draw in without another center sitting, with the same guys being taken out for Winnik as for Rakell.
    • My take: Rakell should be playing. He should be centering the fourth line at least, but he would be more than sufficient to replace both Koivu and Bonino in their given roles as is. I honestly don’t believe he’ll draw in this series unless someone else goes down to injury, which is a shame.
  • Sbisa has had a tough year, one that’s probably stunted his development more than anything. He’s been injured or watching from the press box for much of the year. When he has drawn in, he hasn’t been terrible but the Ducks’ fan base has very little patience for his mistakes nonetheless. Either one of Bryan Allen or Mark Fistric could draw out for Sbisa to get in, but the most realistic option is Fistric. Although Sbisa plays a smaller game than Fistric, the team could use his point shot in all situations.
    • My take: I’d play Sbisa for Allen but that’s what logic (derived from the numbers) and wishful thinking tell me. I doubt Boudreau takes his biggest player off the ice, simply because most coaches still believe those guys make the best penalty killers. If Sbisa does draw in, Fistric is likely sitting.

My ideal route

The point of the postseason is to win games. Icing the best roster, regardless of feelings or politics from the guys, is the preferred way to go — and it’s been evident Anaheim’s best roster isn’t playing. Koivu and Selanne are possession blackholes. Selanne’s counterpunching rush attack game generally doesn’t favor possession, because it isn’t as heavy on the puck as other styles, but unless there’s an adequate support for that style of game — namely, a very strong defense — it’s difficult to integrate it. Selanne’s possession woes have been minimized by sheltered minutes and zone starts, but it has come at a cost of limiting the useful players he’s been paired with. Allen is also not ideal, but he can be useful in very sparing minutes. The problem is, down two games and going on the road, this team needs everyone to contribute without having to be sheltered.

Rakell should be centering a fourth line of Smith-Pelly and one of Etem or Palmieri. Want to up the minutes of that line and feel comfortable defensively? Andrew Cogliano could slot on the right perfectly fine. I’d take out Koivu to play Rakell.

Robert Beck /Sports Illustrated

Robert Beck/Sports Illustrated

I would throw one of Bonino, Winnik or Koivu (if he stays in) on the top line, left-wing side. All three are smart enough players to play that side defensively. Doing so would free up Matt Beleskey, who is a steady possession player, for other lines and also spreads the threats — his shot is hard and very underrated. He needs a chance to open it up high in the slot, and he gets fewer chances to do that on a low-cycle line.

Mathieu Perreault and Patrick Maroon should not be separated. Silfverberg could handle the right side as someone who has played all three forward positions, and I’d have either him or Cogliano on that line. Boudreau could create a rush threat by throwing Etem or Palmieri in there on some shifts. Alternatively, get Corey Perry away from Drew Doughty or Anze Kopitar more by slotting him with those two.

The last line should be whatever’s left of the good players. Ideally, my lines would look like this:

Left Wing Center Right Wing
D. Winnik R. Getzlaf C. Perry
P. Maroon M. Perreault J. Silfverberg
M. Beleskey N. Bonino A. Cogliano
D. Smith-Pelly R. Rakell E. Etem

Winnik on the top is basically to push back Doughty’s partner on carry-ins because he’s always been strong on the puck. He’s effective along the wall in the low cycle and doesn’t need to be the triggerman on the line to create offense. If Koivu absolutely had to be in the lineup, I think he could do the same thing up top. This would also add another “checking” type to the top line, which will see lots of Kopitar.

SIlfverberg needs to be put into some more offense-first situations, and playing with Koivu and Cogliano will never allow that. Maroon and Perreault have shown an ability to create forward play on their own, so adding a shooter to that unit would make it more deadly.

Beleskey and Bonino have worked well together in the past. Putting them together isn’t a tough order. Some speed on that right side would give it a bit of a change up in transition and could help them drive more productive play. Cogliano is probably the fastest forward player on the ice for either team.

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Rakell, Smith-Pelly, and Etem have played together in the AHL with good results. In very limited NHL minutes together, they have also played well. Smith-Pelly has been outstanding this postseason, and Etem has the speed and limited defensive-zone trust of Boudreau to play a bit on the penalty kill, which allows Anaheim to protect Rakell from any dicey situations and add a dimension of raw talent the team needs to score more goals. Put these three in the typical sheltered start role Selanne’s been getting, and it’s a good bet they could do more with it.

On defense, the sides of the ice make this pretty simple. As much as I’d love to switch everything around and gamble, some guys excel on one side and not the other. Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm, and Allen play the left. Ben Lovejoy, Francois Beauchemin, and Fistric play the right. Sbisa generally plays on the left side as well, and attempts to flip him haven’t always been successful.

Debora Robinson/NHL

Debora Robinson/Getty Images NHL

If sides didn’t matter at all, the Ducks could roll with:

C. Fowler H. Lindholm
L. Sbisa F. Beauchemin
B. Allen/M. Fistric B. Lovejoy

But as they probably do matter, this is the more logical configuration, with the top pair getting additional minutes:

C. Fowler B. Lovejoy
H. Lindholm F. Beauchemin
L. Sbisa M. Fistric

Beauchemin has been playing the most minutes at even-strength due to matchups, but Fowler is the best defenseman the Ducks have, and he should be playing the most. Whether Boudreau leaves him with Lovejoy or shuffles someone else up on the pair occasionally (because no one person should be playing his minutes alongside him), that’s fine. But Fowler should be out as much as Doughty, and he’s not — and honestly, that angers me.

Sami Vatanen was also recalled Wednesday, and whether he draws into the lineup could provide an interesting offensive dynamic beyond Fowler and Lindholm.

I really want to see Sbisa in this lineup against this team. He’s an unknown: he’s shown some top-end skill before, but he’s also shown some poor decision making. As a young player, however, that will happen from time to time. I trust Sbisa’s skill to make up for his poorer decisions more than I trust Allen’s, and that’s really the trade-off here. Sbisa making a mistake with a capable partner who can help him out isn’t as noticeable as him messing up with only Allen in back. That’s frightening.

Boudreau could also opt not to switch up his roster that has played the Kings pretty well through two games. Take away the five or six posts hit and the scores aren’t the same. If the coach decides that his team has played well but have been just a little unfortunate, he wouldn’t be wrong and could boost the confidence of the players in the room — something that could likewise result in better results.

We’ll see what Boudreau ultimately decides, but I hope he ices the best players and not necessarily those who think they deserve to play. The primary goal for the Ducks is to win, not feel really good about themselves.

  • Jake

    From what I’ve seen, when Sbisa is on his game he’s a decent puck mover. If Vatanen draws in, you think it would be worth a look to have Vatman play with Fowler?