Will the Big Line Rise Again?
posted Aug 17, 2006 at 12:57PM
Now that the roster is all but finalized one can start to look at potential line combinations. Next to actually qualifying for the playoffs the most important aspect of the regular season is to find those line combinations that bring out the best that the team has to offer. It is the time in which one finds out which combinations work, and which do not. In that regards Ottawa's last season was a complete waste of time. We went into the playoffs with four lines that had, at best, a total of two or three, regular season games together. We might as well have just exited training camp.
One of the key questions that I look forward to being answered is whether we will go back to using the Big Line of Alfredson-Spezza-Heatley?
I am certainly in the yes camp on this one. To have the best line in hockey and not use them is nothing short of ludricous. Rarely do you get three elite players who mesh so well together. To be able to field such a line combination, especially in a league where parity is being imposed, is just a huge, huge advantage. The fact is the Big Line gives us the biggest stick in the playground, and I say we should use it mercilessly.
Ottawa has been cursed with two kinds of coaching mentalities. You have Jacques Martin who was smart and industrious. Then you have Brian Murray, who is stupid and industrious. What both have in common is that they always find the hardest way to do things.
And having a line that is a sure bet to get 300 plus points is just too "easy". Any blogster can get behind the bench and throw the Big Line out there and win games. Nope, these types want to show their coaching "genius" and inevitably they want to break them up. They want to distribute, to balance out the scoring...the worst kind of bureaucratic style leveling. Even in the face of league leading plus/minus statistics, they will quote the need to play tighter more defensive hockey. The trouble is, in that regards, breaking up the Big Line works...scoring is balanced out...everyone scores less and great and good players start looking very mediocre.
Last season showed that everytime the Big Line got broken up our ability to score even strength goals just plunged off a cliff. Consider last year's playoffs. In eleven playoff games Vermette got only two even strength goals. Alfredson got only one, an empty netter. Eaves got only one. Heatley got zero! Nothing...nada. Our victory over Tampa was somewhat illusory...we won that series on special teams...end of story. Even strength, it was a much tighter series than it should have been, even though Tampa was clearly the inferior team, with laughable goaltending and a Maple Leaves type defence corps.
Does anyone really think that if the Big Line had been kept together that Alfredson and Heatley would still combine for just one goal? And I can guarantee you that if Eaves and Vermette were playing together with Kelly and/or Smolinski, then those two would have scored more than just three even strength goals.
And I really hate it when people fall back on that standby that the Senators "choked". They didn't choke...they played their hearts out, but they were not put in a position where they could play their best hockey. The playoffs is a stupid time to feel out new linemates.
Imagine if we went into the playoffs with proven line combinations and Buffalo came at us with four lines that had not played but a few games together...I suggest that the results would have been much different.
So I say let's be be clever and lazy. Put the Big Line, the most "proven" line in hockey, back together, and then just leave them alone. They will get 300 points plus. All three would compete for the Art Ross Trophy, and almost single handedly provide enough scoring to put you in the playoffs.