Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen post-game. They were not asked about
the reuniting of the top line and whether they would prefer to leave it alone.
This isn't going to be long, because what I have to say is
coach Jared Bednar should stop fooling around with his top line.
Leave Mikko Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog
Stop frequently separating them in attempts to get more balanced scoring and present opponents with matchup dilemmas.
Ride the top line,
without apology or trying to get too strategic about it. Joe Sakic has been justifiably praised for making bolstering acquisitions,
including to get secondary scoring throughout the lineup. Trust that, too.
In the past couple of seasons, it seems as if whenever
folks -- broadcasters, writers or fans -- are coming close to finally coining a nickname for the MacKinnon-centered line that
catches on, Bednar feels the need to separate the three. To be fair, injuries also have been factors, so it sometimes was
necessity, not a Bednar stratagem.
There's much, much, much more to it, of course, but with all three in the lineup,
they were separated for the outset of the Wednesday opener against St. Louis. Andre Burakovsky, who has been effective on
the second line since his arrival last season, was with MacKinnon. The Blues won 4-1.
Landeskog rejoined the MacKinnon-centered
line Friday. He had two goals, both at full strength, and Rantanen and MacKinnon
each had a power-play goal. At the end of the night, the line had combined for seven points, the Avalanche had gone 5-for-7
on the power play. And they won 8-0.
That's a small -- two-game -- sample size, of course, but the concept was familiar.
Bednar has done a
great job, but this is my one quibble.
And it's not new.
I'm not saying this line has proven itself to be, say, the
uncannily complementary Clark Gillies-Bryan Trottier-Mike Bossy line during the Islanders' dynastic years, but think of how
that line is so easily identifiable 40 years later.
Give the MacKinnon line a chance to develop that kind of image. He's the best player in the league now. Maximize what you get out of him and his line.
Plus, if your top two centers
are Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg (who were not as good together in occasional forays as on the same even-strength line as
the sum of their parts), you can shoot to create a pick-your-poison balance involving two lines. Not now.
Create an "unseparable" image.
"We know that it works when they're together," Bednar
said after the game when Mike Chambers of the Denver
Post asked him about the top line. "We
experiment at times, with spreading those guys out and try to make us tougher to play against. Sometimes it works, sometimes
it doesn't. But when you have a game like we had or when we need to dig out of the rut, ands we're taking this serious ...
Game one was not good. It wasn't good from a lot of different aspects and then we put pressure on our team as a coaching staff
to be better in certain areas. I like to give our team a chance to respond.
"But those three guys -- Landy, Mac, Mikko -- are the leaders of our hockey club. If we're going to
challenge guys on our team, it's going to be those guys because of their status on our team. We felt like if we put them together
and give them the best opportunity to succeed and lead our hockey club, and that's exactly what they did."
Exactly. The point now is that at the next bump in the road -- and there will be one, perhaps with the lack of secondary scoring an issue
-- the reaction shouldn't be to break up the top line.
During Sunday's post-practice Zoom, I asked Bednar if he might
be less prone to periodically break up the top line in the foreseeable future.
"I'm certainly going to stick with it for a few games," he said. "I
believe this: if we play the way we play as a team, with the commitment and the competitiveness as a team the second night,
whether Landy was on that line or was on (Nazim Kadri's) line, or (Burakovsky) was on Mac's line or Nazim's line, I'm confident
we would have had successs. The whole roster had success, both special teams had success, 5-on-5 plsy was really good. But
you're not going to have any success, I don't care if it's the three best players in the world playing together, if they're
getting outworked and your team's getting outworked, you're not going to have success. It's more of a competitiveness issue
from game one, not the line combinations, in my opinion.
"But, yeah, we'll experiment with them together and apart because sometimes, I think we're
better with them apart, sometimes we're better with them together."