I've blogged this several times in the past, but unfortunately, this issue is still relevant; line juggling has to be as frustrating to play as it is to watch.
I could relate this to just last night's game, but it goes much deeper than that. Bruce Boudreau has stated many times that he switches up the lines in accordance with the particular opponent they are facing. Break that down to mean the opponents have figured out the line in question and can beat them; so Bruce wants to throw them a curve ball. In the immortal words of Craig Laughlin: "Hold it here".
Yesterday, Boudreau decided to throw Cody Eakin onto the B line as a reward for a few good outings and to add a "little chemistry". By doing this, we saw an A line of Ovechkin/Johansson/Semin and a B line of Eakin/Backstrom/Brouwer to start the game, with veteran Mike Knuble being dropped back like a kid being punished in school. Now, don't get me wrong; I'm not ragging on Eakin per se; I'm questioning the thought process behind the "promotion" in general. (After all, isn't getting the call up a promotion and reward in itself?) In all honesty, that "reward" was more of a "lab experiment" then it was an addition of a "little chemistry".
Does it really make sense to scramble lines on a minute by minute basis because you think your opponent knows all your moves? At some point, logic demands you give your lines a chance to prove themselves, continue to work together and overcome the opposition even if they do know your game. Don't second guess their already established chemistry, work on how that chemistry can adjust to the opponent.
Look at the result of almost every pre-game lineup change and compare it to the actual lines at the end of the game. How often does that original pre-game line stay intact? How often do the lines get reshuffled back to the most common pairings? The "lab experiment" blows up like the Hindenburg and we are left with soot-covered goggles. The purpose of lab experimentation is to get satisfactory results. Are you satisfied? I'm not. Even though the team should be able to pair with anyone at any given time doesn't mean that it will work.
So, how about the issue of benching players for poor performance? I'm totally in sync with accountability, but is the poor performance due to a change in the lines? Throw a donkey onto a team of horses pulling a wagon and the entire team either has to compensate for the donkey or the team just breaks down all together. (Yeah, I know, weird analogy). But, do you blame the donkey or the person who put him there in the first place? Where does the accountability lie? I’m not jumping on the “Fire Boudreau” bandwagon just yet, but if the entire team has to be accountable, that has to include the coach of the team as well.
At this point, many of you will say "it's November, it's not like it's going to hurt to shuffle the lines right now". To a certain extent, I would agree, but only if there weren't a history of apparent crisis management preceding it. Continually switching the lines ultimately betrays a lack of confidence in your players' abilities. Last night I tweeted a thought from my husband, "Why isn't the team responding to BB? Think they might be done with him and they are sending HIM a message?" Is it possible that, even subconsciously, the team has said enough is enough? I suspect we'll find out the answer to that soon.
Editors Note: Interestingly, Boudreau was fired 11/28/11, only 8 short days after this was posted. Do not deny my psychic abilities!