Even a franchise-record winning streak doesn’t make a team immune to changes, if a coach feels changes are necessary. Down 3-0 after one period yesterday, Terry Murray moved guys around. He basically flipped sets of wingers up top, with Ryan Smyth and Dustin Brown joining Anze Kopitar, and Brad Richardson and Wayne Simmonds joining Jarret Stoll. Scott Parse moved up to the third line with Alexander Frolov and Michal Handzus.
Thus, it seems, ended the surprisingly successful experiment of putting Richardson and Simmonds on the first line. Born from desperation, it worked quite well for a while, and coincided with Kopitar’s return to being a top-level scorer. In the meantime, though, Smyth has raised his level of play considerably, and there’s a strong recent history of Smyth and Kopitar playing well together. Here’s what Murray and Kopitar said today about the changes among the top six forwards, starting with whether Murray was looking for the right opportunity to reunite Smyth and Kopitar.
MURRAY: “I’m not looking for the opportunity, but I’m aware that if I need to make a change again, I’ll do that. The reason that Richardson and Simmonds got put on that line was because of the way they were playing. Details, hard, heavy, gritty, and still at a pretty significant skill level. Sometimes when you play and you’re viewed as the number one line, you start to think, `Well, I better bring my skill up to the next level.’ As a result, the other side of your game, that we’re talking about here, you start to pay a price for us. Really, their foundation is the reason they got there.
“To me, it’s a change I feel I need to make right now. So Brownie will be on the right side and Smytty will be on the left side. And I still need Richie and Simmer. They’re going to be playing with Jarret Stoll, so they’re going to be playing important roles on the hockey club, but I want them to really dig in again and get a refocus on those areas that they were doing so well, to get them up there.
And here are Kopitar’s thoughts…
KOPITAR: “We were going good. Obviously when the guys are going good, you don’t want to break it up. Now it’s a little change again. The lines are mixing during the game too, a little bit. Obviously you want to go to your strengths, but sometimes it just happens that the lines get mixed up. Everybody is familiar with everybody now, so it’s not a huge difference.”
Question: And clearly you and Ryan have had some success already…
KOPITAR: “When you get a little chemistry, it just can’t go away overnight. We’ve been playing on the power play together, so it’s not like we completely stayed away from each other. It’s better that way.”