Chicago – you Craig Berube. You have full opportunity to think about your font combinations. Training camp comes and goes and you get to see those kits in action before the season.
Then the regular season starts, and here we go, and–boom–one game in, Pavel Bukhnevich You go down with an injury and you really change things up. Two games later, another six strikers – Brandon Saad – Absent from the stadiums due to an injury. Then you start losing games. Eight of them in a row.
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Twelve games into the season, Berube has experimented with no fewer than 32 different line combinations to start games, which is an absolutely insane pace.
“I talk to the players and the coaches quite a bit,” Birobi said. “Not all the time, but as a coach, we see what’s best for the game. There might be a different guy here or there, match. And a lot of times I talk to the guys: Do you guys need to change? What’s going on here? How do you feel about your streak?”
When asked if he had reached a point of anger – “What should I do?” – Especially over eight consecutive matches, Berubi smiled and said, “You can always come up with something.”
Line combinations #30-32 came immediately after the Blues lost their worst eighth consecutive game, 5-1 to the Philadelphia Flyers on November 8.
And suddenly, all was well with the world. The Blues have won three in a row and will pick up their fourth consecutive win Wednesday at the United Center against the Chicago Blackhawks. The Puck Drop comes shortly after 6:30 p.m
After changing forward lines to varying degrees in each of the first 12 matches, Birobi has eclipsed the same lineup in three straight matches – victories over San Jose, Vegas and Colorado.
“It’s definitely going well,” Berubi said. “The chemistry was good. I love the lines now.”
Even with recent success, it’s hard to imagine backpackers Leivo and Pitlick being long-term solutions. But sometimes the hungry player is better than the most talented player. And Leivo and Pitlick are eager to re-establish their NHL careers. Leivo has spent more time in the AHL than the NHL recently; Pitlick was without a team entering camp and was with the Blues on a trial (or PTO) contract.
So it almost reeked of despair when, along with other lineup changes, they were included in the lineup against San Jose. But it works so far.
The biggest key was the introduction of Leivo on Ryan O’Reilly’s line (along with the return of Saad after missing six games with an upper body injury). In six of the first 10 games, O’Reilly’s streak hasn’t had a single point — no goals, no assists.
O’Reilly has scored 1 goal in 10 games, and no assists in 12 games.
But putting the Saad-O’Reilly-Leveaux streak together, starting in the San Jose contest, got O’Reilly and the Blues ahead.
“It’s great. We work very well together,” O’Reilly said after the 3-2 win in Vegas. “We put in a lot of great plays tonight. We could have a little more than that. Yeah, some chemistry is definitely being built there.”
Make no mistake, Leveaux is no David Peron – O’Reilly’s right winger for most of the past four seasons. But he sparked this streak in terms of puck possession and playing around the net.
“It was great along the wall,” Saad said. “He does good catches, catches pucks, fights guys. That’s what we want to do as a heavy line and get teams to work for.”
Over three straight games, O’Reilly’s streak of four goals and four assists. Saad has three of those goals. O’Reilly has one.
“We fall behind them and then they kind of slide into each other, we trust each other,” said Leveaux, who has provided assists since being called up and has himself had several good scoring chances. “They’re two really good players, so I just get in the net and let them do their thing.”
With Leivo settling O’Reilly’s line, there was a ripple effect throughout the rest of the line-up.
Brayden Sheen’s streak, with Ivan Barbashev on the left wing and Jordan Cairo on the right wing, produced three goals and two assists during the winning streak – with Cairo hitting two of the three.
“I enjoy playing with Rossi,” Shin said, pointing to Kyro. “I feel like I’ve always played really well with him. He brings a lot of speed and attacking dynamic to the game. For me, I just try to play both ends of the ice as well as Barbie. I think we both complement him with a two-player and let him do his thing offensively.
“Barbie is great, he’s from north to south. He’ll win his battles. He’s good on both ends of the ice. He’ll go to the net and do little things with his buddies to make it easier for you.”
The development of these two lines has allowed Berube to reunite what was the team’s most dynamic line last season: Pavel Buchenevich – Robert Thomas – Vladimir Tarasenko. This trio hasn’t really hit their stride this season.
“I still think he could be more direct,” Berubi said last week. “Shooting, hitting the net more. Things like that… I still would like to see them shoot a little bit more and not be so nice all the time.”
But Thomas’ streak showed his presence during the winning streak with a goal and nine assists in the three games. Defensively, the line went against Nathan McKinnon’s line for most of Monday’s game and played well.
Meanwhile, the fourth line—led by center Noel Acciari—was doing what fourth lines should do, grinding, hitting, and playing with energy. Berube calls it playing hard hockey.
“When we can roll lines this way and everyone can contribute, we will be successful,” Saad said. “And now we feel pretty good, so I think they’ve done a good job kind of getting us together.”