Is Juggling Lines Causing More Harm or Good for the Phoenix Coyotes?

Mark BrownContributor IOctober 22, 2013

Lauri Korpikoski (No. 28) and Radim Vrbata (No. 17) seem to click on the same line.
Lauri Korpikoski (No. 28) and Radim Vrbata (No. 17) seem to click on the same line.Norm Hall/Getty Images

Juggling lines in hockey might be considered a sign of weakness.

If a coach mixes personnel, that consequence could be interpreted as declining value in one player or a set of players. Though substitution may not be permanent, the desire remains to find players who complement one another and create a lasting bond.

Not quite correct, said Phoenix center Mike Ribeiro.

Ribeiro stepped to the forefront in recent days and helped the Coyotes snap a two-game winless streak. His two goals against Detroit last Saturday night triggered a 5-2 win over the Red Wings and proved a permanent set of wingers may not be as important as most think.

When Ribeiro signed with the Coyotes over the recent offseason, coach Dave Tippett immediately placed the 33-year-old center with Mikkel Boedker on the left wing and captain Shane Doan on the right side.

Whether from restlessness or the need to spark an offense, Tippett juggled Ribeiro off what was considered the Coyotes’ No. 1 line.

The result was his first goal of the season against Ottawa on Oct. 15 and two more against the Red Wings on Oct. 19. That’s when Tippett replaced Doan with Dave Moss on the right wing. In the Detroit game, Boedker picked up assists on both Ribeiro goals, and Ross was credited with an assist on Ribeiro’s second goal.

“As long as you’re doing your job and in the right place, it really doesn’t matter,” Ribeiro said in reference to linemates. “Because I’m a center, I try and be around the net and be in position to score.”

Overall, Tippett added, the value of cementing lines over a period of time is overrated.

Sure, there have been some very productive units in the past.

Pundits cite the Red Wings’ Production Line of Gordie Howe, Alex Delvecchio and Ted Lindsay, the Flyers’ LCB Line of Bobby Clarke, Bill Barber and Reggie Leach and the Sabres’ French Connection of Rene Robert, Richard Martin and Gil Perreault as examples of lines that were productive for a considerable period of time.

In his tenure as Coyotes‘ coach, Tippett has coached one unit of some cohesion. In reality, this represents two-thirds of a line because Tippett continues to search for a left wing for center Martin Hanzal with Radim Vrbata on the right wing.

Beginning with training camp in September, Tippett placed Lauri Korpikoski on the left wing with Hanzal and Vrbata, and that unit appears productive. When the line was formed, Tippett said Hanzal and Korpikoski had “a history” of skating together. That’s when Tippett ran Hanzal and Korpikoski out together as penalty-killers and subsequently created the Coyotes’ second line.

Sometimes, Tippett argues, line changes are made in order to give one player more ice time.

“If I see a guy is having a good night, I might juggle a few lines to give that guy more playing time,” Tippett said. “Really, lines develop because of how players perform. Some guys can have a tough night and you know it’s time for a change.”

In the end, the ability to work as a unit remains the deciding factor.

“You have to have guys who can work together and form a chemistry,” said center Antoine Vermette. “Players need to trust one another and from that, you can build a good unit.”

Making History

When Phoenix goalie Mike Smith scored in the third period of last Saturday’s game with Detroit, he became the 11th netminder to score by projecting the puck with his stick.

Overall, he is the 14th goalie credited with a goal.

The last goalie credited with a goal was the Devils’ Martin Brodeur. As the last New Jersey player to touch the puck, Brodeur was given a goal when the Hurricanes’ Jordan Staal’s pass back to a teammate slid into his own net during a game on March 21, 2013.

“I’m always shooting the puck around in practice and this time, I hoped there was enough time,” Smith said. “Everything has to work right and the clock has to slow down at the right time of the game to let it trickle in over the line."

Smith was credited with the goal with 0:00.1 left on the clock.


Mark Brown is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand.