Of the many things I find absolutely fascinating about hockey is the making and breaking of lines. Players are tossed together by injures and demotions, cold streaks and red hot scoring streaks. Sometimes lines are broken up and shuffled to get better matchups against a given opponent, some times a player or player will simply abandon their skill set and start having amorous relations with a canine, other times some has been traded.
One of the most famous lines in recent Bruins history is the “700lb Line”, none of the three players is still with the team, but all are remembered. Joe Thornton centered Mike Knuble and Glen Murray. Thornton was the fresh faced youngster with the unbelievable hands and vision. Knuble was the crease front presence who was damn near impossible to move. Glen Murray had the mind numbing release. They were undoubtedly the three most talented forwards on the team at the time, and playing together it showed.
A few years back during the very, very dark days Brad Boyes, Patrice Bergeron and Marco Sturm gave the Garden faithful something to cheer for. They were clearly the first, and until recently only three man threat since the demise of the 700lb Line. All three exhibited above average speed, Bergeron slid from the right wing where he was drafted to the center position where Bruins fans have come to adore him. Sturm was absolutely predatory on the left wing dishing out hits, passes and goals. Boyes showed up for work and rocketed the puck on net from anywhere he could get a heartbeat free of interference. This line was clearly 80% of the teams total talent in their season together, and what little there was to cheer about was usually the result of this lines work.
Still more recently we saw the emergence of two young players, and the resurgence of a third. Blake Wheeler was drafted by the Phoenix Coyotes at number six but chose to get his education instead. Some might say the educational pursuit was in part because of the financial state of the then struggling franchise. Peter Chiarelli did little but wave a contract at him, and signed him without having to give up a draft pick or prospect. David Krejci split the previous season between Boston and Providence, with some time on the IR thanks to Adam Mair. Michael Ryder had earned his way into the dog house in La belle province, and in the off season signed with his old teams arch rivals. Together the three would prove very, very effective. Seventy goals would come from the trio, as the third line.
Last season, very briefly we saw a combination of Vladimir Sobotka, Daniel Paille and Blake Wheeler formed one of the most effective lines of the injury riddled season. Towards the end of one period they played together they completely took over the game and cycled the puck at the netmouth getting off several shots, cycling and holding on to possession for over a minute. Had the period been about 2 seconds longer Sobotka would have potted a goal as he had one waived off for finding the twine as the horn sounded. Sobotka was at his finest in a Bruins uniform at center, hitting everything in site, winning faceoffs consistently, passing well and making very good use of his linemates. Paille looked like a genuine top six forward, and Wheeler looked like he’d regained his rookie prowess. I wish the line had been given another week or two, they might just have made a lot of noise.
Marc Savard has had plenty of linemates since arriving in the Hub. Everyone from PJ Axellson and Glen Murray to Phil Kessel, Marco Sturm, and more have cycled through his wing. Some have worked well, most notably the pairing of Lucic and Kessel. In seasons past, Ryder has been tried several times with Savard, much to the disappointment of everyone. Despite Savard being a point per game player most of his career, and Ryder being a multi-time 30 goal man, the two were clearly less than the sum of their parts regardless of who they were linked up with. This season newcomer Nathan Horton has been infused into the paring and the chemistry of the three is quite interesting. Horton and Ryder can both deliver solid hits and have a great release, Savard is still struggling back to his pre-concussion form, but the three are just fun to watch together. If they can keep getting good chances they can will do a lot of damage.
A recent line that was clearly less than the some of its parts was Tyler Seguin and Blake Wheeler flanking David Krejci. I’ve quipped that this “Charmin Line” was a touch too soft, and their play against Pittsburgh proved this as Jordan Staal and company ran this line over right and left. Despite the greats speed of Wheeler and Seguin and the sweet feeds of Krejci, the trio was ill fitted from the word go and never managed to look like they were all reading from the same playbook.
It will be very, very interesting to see what lines emerge throughout the rest of the season. A move that will bring in a powerplay threat is almost a certainty, and that means someone will go and the lines will be shuffled once more. As interesting, if less immediate is the question of what the lines will be like next fall as we’re likely to say good bye to anywhere from two to four of the teams current forwards. One line that might be very interesting next year is the threesome of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and Jordan Caron. I think they could be a three headed monster that a lot of teams would have a great deal of trouble with.