(HockeySTL)-- If you are someone who doesn’t like change, the Blues’ line combinations this year would drive you crazy. Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock has scrambled the team’s forward lines on a consistent basis this season, in an attempt to find stability and chemistry. Hitchcock once again mixed up the ingredients of his lines on Saturday, but this time for a different reason.
The team was forced to change some components of its lineup after receiving word that Vladimir Sobotka would not be a player in Saturday’s game, or any game in the near future. Sobotka was placed on injured reserve with a lower-body injury on Saturday, which will keep him sidelined for at least four weeks, and possibly longer.
Sobotka, who is a center, has been the Blues’ best faceoff man, and one of their best two-way players all season. Before crashing into the boards in Carolina on Friday and sustaining a serious injury to his left leg, Sobotka was centering a line with young Vladimir Tarasenko and veteran Derek Roy on his wings. That combination was a relatively new one, having been used in just three games leading up to Sobotka’s injury, but it gave both Roy and Tarasenko a first-hand chance to see how invaluable Sobotka is to the team on the ice.
“It’s tough; you can’t replace ‘Vladdi’,” said Roy. “He battles every game. A lot of guys are going to have to step up.”
“That’s what I mean when I say we fight for each other,” said Tarasenko. “When someone (has) an injury, we have to step up and work for him.”
Roy and Tarasenko ended up being largely responsible for the club’s shootout winner over Nashville on Saturday, displaying what they preached, as they were two of the three components making up the team’s best line of the night.
But the formation of the line was out of necessity, rather than being a long-standing plan.
Upon hearing the news of Sobotka’s injury, Hitchcock had to switch the elements of his lineup, moving Roy back to the center position, a role Roy has been in for most of the season, and sliding Jaden Schwartz down from his first to his second line. Hitchcock moved struggling forward Chris Stewart to the team’s first line, filling the void left by Schwartz’s transition, and re-inserted Ryan Reaves into the lineup. What Hitchcock didn’t know at the time of the adjustments is that he had created line gold with the Schwartz-Roy-Tarasenko combination.
Combined, the line had four points on the night. Schwartz and Tarasenko each had a goal and Roy tallied an assist.
“That line was great,” said Hitchcock. “They were really great off the rush. They really played with a lot of speed and tempo in their game and we needed it. I liked the way they went to the net, hung onto the puck and I really liked their composure.”
Four games ago, suggesting this line combination would have been laughable. Roy had gone through a stretch where he was goal-less in 17 games, and points were few and far between. Hitchcock sat Roy for a game in New York as a way of sending a message to the forward, and the club is reaping the benefits.
“Since Derek was not in the lineup, I think he has really made a great account of himself,” said Hitchcock. “He’s been a real good player for us. I think he’s really answered the bell and has had a great attitude.”
“He’s been playing well,” said Schwartz. “I don’t know if he was necessarily playing bad before, but he maybe wasn’t creating as much. He’s such a smart player that when he gets time and space he is going to make a play. This was the first time I had played with him all year and it was fun.”
Still, Roy hadn’t centered a top line on a consistent basis in weeks. But Hitchcock had the confidence in veteran to allow him to center two of the team’s best players. And Roy will be remaining in that role said the coach.
“He’s going to take on the responsibility of keeping that line going with ‘Sobi’ not here,” he said of Roy.
When the new line combination was made public, it had people drooling. The Predators had the chance to experience it first-hand for the first time, and its first going has people anxious to see whether or not it can sustain such dominance.
Schwartz, Roy and Tarasenko were announced as the three stars following Saturday night’s victory. It’s rare that one line accounts for all three of the game’s stars, but no one can argue against their selections.
“They’re dangerous,” said Hitchcock. “They’re dangerous because everybody knows that once they cross center ice they are going towards the net and that’s really good for us.”
And it certainly helps that the players like playing with one another.
“I thought we worked together,” Roy said. “We talk a lot on the bench and we make sure we know where each other is going to be on the ice. We just have to keep working together as a line and good things will happen.”
Tarasenko and Schwartz are both products of the 2010 NHL draft. Despite being relatively new to NHL hockey, both are being used as catalysts for the Blues. Throughout the season, both players have been used on various lines in various situations to help spark their teammates. It is rare that either player has an off game. Neither minds their variety of roles on the team, because they understand that they are just cogs in a machine.
“I play a lot with both guys. It’s not my decision; it’s the coach’s decision and I’m happy to play with everybody on our team because everybody is a good player,” said Tarasenko. “It was just one more game and we will see what the lines will be after tomorrow.”
As Tarasenko points out, it was just one game, but for the player’s first time together, it was quite the showing. While Hitchcock may switch up some of his other lines, it’s hard to imagine the coach not keeping that line intact.