Jan. 9: Ruff Shuffles Forward Lines
As the Stars convened for practice Wednesday morning on the heels of their first three game losing streak of the season, it became clear that Stars head coach Lindy Ruff wasn’t content to enter into Thursday’s tilt without shaking things up a bit. To that end, he rolled out forward lines that could look something like this tonight (according to Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News):
With so many parts shifting around, there is certainly a lot to speculate about in the time before the puck drops at the Prudential Center Thursday night. While it’s a no brainer to even the most casual of fans that Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn belong on the team’s first forward line, the question of who would play the role of their second winger has largely been up in air for much of the season. For now, it seems as if Rich Peverley, who has logged most of his hours as of late as a center, will get his chance.
In moving Peverly to the wing, the Stars are giving up a career 55% face-off percentage man taking the majority of draws on his line in favor of placing a veteran playmaker alongside the dynamic duo of Benn and Seguin, while still allowing for Peverley to step in for Seguin (who has yet to eclipse the .500 mark on the dot) on critical draws.
In addition to the change on the top pairing, one can only assume that Ruff’s ultimate goal is a combination of four lines that can each give the Devils trouble at both ends of the ice. Cody Eakin is being given the opportunity to play as a member of an offensive minded line with Erik Cole and Valeri Nichushkin, as opposed to his usual gritty company, in hopes that the recent surge of both Cole and Nichushkin can lead to some much needed depth scoring.
The third line has been crafted in the same style: Vernon Fiddler, pushed to the fourth line since returning from injury in the later part of December, has been moved up alongside the pair of Ray Whitney and Alex Chiasson. Ruff has expressed confidence in Fiddler, and the fan favorite has an opportunity to bring his patented blue-collar style of play and his stellar face-off numbers to a line where he can feed the combination of Whitney and Chiasson that has proven its deadliness time and again in the young French-Canadian’s short career.
Even the fourth line, with all its grit, physicality, and abrasiveness, has been put together to take advantage of its offensive potential. Shawn Horcoff, who has spent the majority of recent weeks on the wing, brings a face-off percentage of nearly .500 on the year to a line with the speed and unrelenting nature to create scoring chances when they possess the puck.
All in all, it seems that Ruff has turned to a distribution of his team's blue-collar veterans to get this thing headed in the right direction after a disappointing three game stretch. For a team that has thrived on the road for much of the year, the opportunity to get off the schnide away from the American Airlines Center is one that they can certainly take advantage of.
With all of this in mind, its important to remember that Lindy Ruff hasn’t shown any indications of being timid about mid-game line changes: recently, the top pairing of Benn, Seguin, and Chiasson that entered the game against the Canadiens was broken up in favor of a more top-heavy look of Benn, Seguin and Nichushkin. Will Ruff roll these lines out tonight against Jaromir Jagr and the Devils? It seems likely, as the Stars won’t hold a morning skate before the contest. But, as with much of this season, things are certainly subject to change.