Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The LA Kings Are Rolling Four Lines

When the rumors were swirling around the interwebs in early December that Darryl Sutter would be the new head coach of the Los Angeles Kings, I didn't really know what to think other than I didn't think Terry Murray should be fired.  I read a bunch of articles and blog posts about the type of coach Darryl Sutter had been in the past and, while at least one hockey analyst thought it was a good hiring by Dean Lombardi, most did not think Sutter was the appropriate coach to replace Murray.  The word I kept reading and hearing over and over to describe Sutter was "intense" and he was commonly described as emphasizing a defense-first mindset among his players, which is exactly the type of coach Terry Murray was.  The best descriptive piece I read about Sutter was by Mike Chen, a long-time San Jose Sharks fan and former full-time, now occasional hockey blogger at SB Nation. The part that struck me the most was this paragraph:
At the same time, Sutter's Sharks regularly rolled four lines regardless of situation. After all, the team was built in his image, and they would work-work-work regardless of the score. That mentality proved to be a blessing and a curse, and while it brought success to the Craven-Matteau days, it regressed a roster with greater talent. A perfect in-game example of this was Game 6 of the 2001's first-round series against St. Louis. Down by one goal and facing elimination, Sutter failed to stack his lineup with his scoring forwards. Instead, he had his fourth line out here during the critical moment, and while guys like Mark Smith and Todd Harvey were fine in their roles, it seemed completely nonsensical to have them on the ice when the entire season was on the line.
Mike Chen's description of Sutter's 'roll four lines' coaching style is exactly what we're seeing with the LA Kings. So far, it's been working.  However, I have minor-to-major heart palpitations when I see the 4th line on the ice with 5 minutes left in a tight game where the Kings are holding onto the lead, or when someone like Colin Fraser is on the penalty kill, or, the 4th line is on the power play, but the Kings have yet to lose in regulation under Sutter.  He's definitely instilling a cohesive team mentality, but I wonder if he will break from this coaching style when the Kings are fighting for every point down the stretch to clinch a playoff spot or are trying to come back or maintain a lead in a playoff game.  You want your best players on the ice in key moments, right?  I wonder how long this strategy will last.

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