Line switch pays dividends

February, 18, 2010

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- In what may be the most important coaching decision Ron Wilson makes in these Olympics, don't underestimate the line switch in the third period of Thursday's 6-1 win over Norway.

Jamie Langenbrunner finished the game with New Jersey Devils teammate Zach Parise on the top line centered by Paul Stastny, and I suspect that's how it's going to remain from here on out.

And quite frankly, in a short tournament in which creating chemistry among new teammates is so important, I don't really understand why the two Devils were not put together to start the tournament.

"I thought about that," Wilson said. "But at the same time I was looking for a real banging shutdown line with Ryan Kesler, [Dustin] Brown and Jamie. But I think I've kind of found a different way to shut down people using the [David] Backes line. And I might end up with Brownie in that mix, adding more physicality."

So, Patrick Kane is off the top line now, but Wilson has an interesting combo in mind for Team Canada on Sunday.

"I think he'll be better suited from what I can see playing with Ryan Kesler who is skating really well," Wilson said. "And maybe getting Bobby Ryan on the other side."

To recap, here's what we should see Sunday up front:


Ryan Malone-Joe Pavelski-Phil Kessel


Brown-Backes-Ryan Callahan/Chris Drury

Kane just didn't seem at ease on the big line with Stastny and Parise, although the trio did finally get on the board with a goal Thursday before the line switch.

"I thought we were playing pretty good throughout the whole game," insisted Kane. "I don't know if they're experimenting with different things or what they're doing. Whoever you're paired with on this team is going to be fine with me."

Parise, however, admitted their trio wasn't totally clicking.

"OK," he said when asked about the line's performance before the switch. "I thought tonight was better than the first game. We generated more offensively this game. But I think if you asked the other two guys, we can play better. There's a lot of room for improvement."

Parise didn't know it after the game, but Wilson made it pretty clear Langenbrunner is there to stay. Like the instant chemistry Russia gets from the Alex Ovechkin/Alexander Semin pairing or Team Canada gets from the Ryan Getzlaf/Corey Perry combo or the entire San Jose Sharks line, it just makes too much sense to have the two Devils wingers together.

"We definitely know a little bit where each other are on the ice," Langenbrunner said. "We had a couple of good shifts there at the end but it's hard to really say when it's 5-1 or 6-1. We'll see what we do Sunday."

The proposed line changes from Wilson also may give the U.S. a more offensive look. Suddenly Kesler's third line has more offensive jam to it and, in theory, the top three lines now should be able to score goals on a consistent basis. That leaves the Backes line to crash and bang. It deviates from what GM Brian Burke usually likes to see -- the top six going skill and the bottom six going bang -- but really, Wilson has no choice here. Kane with Parise and Stastny just wasn't working.

"Patrick's a winger but he's really a center playing the wing," Wilson said. "Paul Stastny needs to touch the puck a little bit more. And also Zach. So changing the lines up a little bit was to look for a little bit more compatibility. We'll see going forward. Jamie Langenbrunner plays most of the time with Zach. You're trying find chemistry. Sometimes it's not there. It wasn't Patrick Kane's fault. He's playing Patrick Kane hockey. …

"Getting Jamie out there just settles down Zach a little bit. They had a couple of great shifts."

Taking shots

Poor Vesa Toskala.

The guy doesn't even play for the Toronto Maple Leafs anymore.

He's a million miles away from the Olympics and he's still getting thrown under the bus.

His former coach Ron Wilson, head coach of the U.S. team in Vancouver, was asked about the play of American netminder Ryan Miller, who has allowed just two goals in two games, and couldn't resist getting in a not-so-subtle dig on Toskala.

"I love our goaltending when we do make a mistake. I'm not always used to, personally over the last two years, of getting the big save so to speak. It's changed in the last couple weeks," Wilson said, referring to the recent deal that sent Toskala to Anaheim for netminder J.S. Giguere.

"I can breathe, I'm so used to holding my breath. I'm just learning I can breath on the bench, it's OK."

Scott Burnside

ESPN Senior Writer

Pierre LeBrun

ESPN Senior Writer



You must be signed in to post a comment

Already have an account?