Hockey Banter, Week XIII: Lineup Shakeup?

Graham Beck, BC Heights Sports

Signs out of practice this week suggest we might have some new lines this weekend. We take a look in this week's Banter.

Joseph Gravellese: I guess you've got pretty high expectations as a team when you can be in the midst of a 7-game unbeaten streak and the coaching staff decides it's time to make a major shakeup to the lineup.

But it looks like that may well be the case this week, as reports out of practice indicate the coaching staff has pulled the trigger on a couple of lineup moves that some fans have been clamoring for all year.

To summarize:

-Danny Linell to forward, on a line with Michael Sit and Quinn Smith

-Pat Brown now centering Austin Cangelosi and Ryan Fitzgerald

-Destry Straight out of the lineup

-Teddy Doherty in as the 6th defenseman

These are some pretty major changes but at the same time, it's hard to say any of them are stunning or unwelcome. We don't know if this is a little deflection tactic or a little experimentation, or if this really does reflect the lineup York intends to trot out on Friday night against BU. But assuming these are the changes... thoughts?

Grant Salzano: Seeing as how the first line is going to to major damage no matter what, it's pretty low risk for the coaching staff to seek chemistry on the lower lines. It's not like you'll hurt the overall production all that much if it doesn't work out.

Everyone has been screaming for Linell to be put back at forward, so at least the fans will be appeased on that regard. And I really like the move.

#1, you get Linell back in his natural position. If we get any kind of production out of that = win, because #2, Doherty belongs out on the ice. He has looked great in limited time.

So it would appear that we upgraded the blue line with the potential to get a little spark out of Linell at forward.

Can't complain.

GS: As for Pat Brown with Cangelosi and Fitzgerald -- well, take out the Penn State game and Cangelosi and Fitzgerald have a combined 0 points in their last 5 games. We need to get them back on the scoresheet somehow.

JG: Yeah, I'm pretty much going to reiterate what you said. Looking at it from a few angles, it makes sense. The biggest, most obvious issues with this team are scoring depth beyond the big guns, and the propensity for defensive breakdowns.

Overall, the defense is allowing a shade under 29.5 shots per game, good for 24th in the nation in that category. That's okay, if you're getting Connor Hellebuyck or Jon Gillies-like production out of your starting goaltender(s) -- Lowell and Providence are both in the same range. But they're not. Plus -- and this is anecdotal, not statistical, so pick it apart if you disagree -- it seems like the chances BC gives up are often grade A chances off of breakdowns.

I do think putting Doherty into the lineup consistently is the biggest plus here, because he really has been very good. Is he perfect? No. Obviously, he was part of the defense that struggled last year, and if the coaching staff considered him a can't-miss player, he would have been playing from the get go. But he has done well in his opportunities, he's a good skater, he's a good puck mover and contributes offensively as well as being a smart defensive player. In 9 games, he's a +7. Pretty solid.

Basically, I don't think you're going to see a dropoff in point production from what Linell gives you there, and Linell's a gifted offensive player.

Putting Linell with the forwards... well, that potentially makes your forward pool a little deeper, if Linell can help turn a line with Smith and Sit into a scoring line. Which they were, when they were united for a time last year.

One thing it definitely does is make your forward lines a lot faster. Linell is an excellent skater. Destry Straight is not fast. He has other attributes, but we haven't seen enough of them, frankly, outside of the Penn State game. BC isn't a Claude Julien-coached team, his size and strength is an asset if he's using it to create offense. Sadly, it just hasn't happened. And this is coming from someone who has long hoped for Straight to break out.

Anyway, whatever Linell does, he makes you faster, that's for sure -- and speed is a key ingredient for BC.

GS: ESS EE SEE SPEED

JG: In terms of the Fitzgerald and Cangelosi combo, two things that could make that a good move: Brown gives them an experienced center to go with their youthful exuberance -- plus, it puts Fitzgerald back on the wing, where he's found most of his scoring success this year. He hasn't been as productive at center, which is a big responsibility for a freshman.

Gilmour's line has shown some promise in recent games, and that remains untouched. And obviously the big line remains untouched.

So if you catch some lightning in a bottle with one of those new lines, you're suddenly really improving your scoring depth.

Also, if you do look to see BC move away, medium-term, from the "hero line" setup they have now, you could do a lot worse than Danny Linell on that top unit given his speed and skill. He's skated with Kreider before, if I recall correctly, with some success.

Then suddenly whatever line Kevin Hayes is on becomes a monstrous line by virtue of having Kevin Hayes on it.

GS: Interesting point about Fitzgerald playing center. In the last 5 games that weren't against PSU, he is a combined -2, with no 'plus' games. That probably has something to do with the additional defensive responsibilities of being a center.

JG: Absolutely. That, and being on a weaker line. I mean, he was with Hayes when he had his big point scoring haul, I believe.

So. Change could be good there.

Really, these moves give you options. I am quite happy about it. I'm honestly surprised to see the moves made now because it seems like the kind of rabbit out of the hat you see from this staff later in the year. But we are entering crunch time. BU is always a big game, and Maine is on a nice roll. Plus, it's not a mystery that BC's hot streak (offensively anyway) has been predicated on riding the ridiculous production of the top line. That's not really a championship formula, as we saw last year.

I'm still on team #FreeCamSpiro, but hey, that's another topic for another day.

GS: Funny, as you were typing that, I was typing that this is EXACTLY the time of year where in our past successful seasons, Jerry has pulled something miraculous out of a hat in terms of line combinations.

It's easy to lose track of the fact that we're getting pretty damn close to the end of the regular season.

JG: It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that the best case scenario for BC is catching lightning in a bottle with one of these other combinations, and getting serviceable enough scoring from the other units that they can keep the GAH! line together.

Because what they're doing is extraordinary.

But there's enough time left where, say the Beanpot is rolling around and you're still really only relying on one unit for scoring, you can split them up and try to get multiple lines going. And then, failing that, you can reunite the big guns again and put your eggs in that basket.

So, kind of like what they did last year, except this year it will work. And Hayes won't get hurt. And the defense and goaltending will be better.

That's the plan, anyway.

GS: Indeed it is. Although last year we didn't really have a super line -- we had a good line and then some other guys playing behind them.

Hayes was nothing near the monster he is this year before he got hurt last season. And I mean not even in the same stratosphere. He's been almost as good as Gaudreau. If the season were to end today you might see him in the final three with Gaudreau.

JG: For sure.

Also, worth noting: for all the hand-wringing we did for months and months last year about being a one-dimensional offensive team, they still ended up with the #2 offense in the land at 3.37 goals per game (which goes to show how ludicrous it is that they're averaging around 4.5 right now).

The culprit was the defense. They were 34th in the nation, allowing a little over 2.8/gm. And the penalty kill -- often a BC staple -- was a mediocre 83.8%.

Again, not saying anything that's breaking news here. But I think that all kind of gets overlooked sometimes.

Give last year's team this year's defense and goaltending -- quietly up to #14 in the nation at 2.33 GAA, and the nation's second best penalty kill -- and they would have been on to something.

This is understandably oversimplistic analysis, but look at it this way: BC's victory margin was .55 goals per game last year, 14th in the country. With a half-goal-per-game better defense, that would jump up to a theoretical 1.05 goal per game margin: #3 behind Quinnipiac and Minnesota.

I guess this is all just a circuitous way of saying BC is gonna score goals.

GS: And is better at stopping them this year than they were last year.

That's a winning recipe.

JG: Yes. While simultaneously being even better at scoring them. Like, a whole goal per game better. Wow.

Hockey is a crazy game but in that respect a simple one.

GS: It's interesting to me how good we've really been, because it feels that we've left a lot on the table.

JG: Yeah, you're kind of right. I mean, we should have beaten Brown and Holy Cross.

But the other losses this season were @ Maine, @ Minnesota, @ Michigan... so, not so bad.

I think what's preventing us from viewing this team as being as good as they are is 1) memories of them getting roughed up at the end of last year and 2) that Minnesota shellacking, probably.

I can't put too much stock in the bad mid-major results. Hell, that's become a Hockey East tradition this year.

But from a pure numbers standpoint they're certainly among the very best teams in the country and a bona fide national title contender, regardless of whether or not these lineup changes make the forward lines deeper or the defense sturdier. And regardless of whether Billett or Demko make the jump from good to elite.

Oh, and this is while also having a bad power play, too. #Bruinsd

GS: The power play has shown signs of life, too. If we can get that going then you might as well forget it because we're going to have a strong end of the season.

JG: Speaking of the Brown game -- and this will be brief, because this is already really long, I know -- I was happy with the escape with a draw. They didn't play great... meanwhile, Brown played really well (also, shove it New Guy, seriously).

The only thing that really aggravated me was giving up that third Brown goal so quickly after tying the game at 2 early in the third. That killed BC's chances of coming out with a win and didn't really show proper focus. It was both a defensive breakdown and a bad goal for Demko to give up.

Demko, it should be said, alleviated any fears of rust by playing an EXCELLENT first period, shutting out Brown when they came out much sharper than BC. But my memories -- I haven't seen any highlights -- suggest that goals #1 and #3 were ones he'd probably like to have back.

GS: Yeah that Brown game was pretty lackluster. But I was happy with Demko's play overall. He definitely made some flashy stops early, that's for sure.

So that's it for this week. Make sure to stop by tomorrow for our final thoughts going into the weekend's big league games against BU (lol) and Maine.

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