Last night, the Devils managed to lose a game in overtime that they were more than capable of winning. Honestly, however, the majority of that positive play came from one line - the top line of Andreas Johnsson, Nico Hischier, and Jesper Bratt, at least when discussing 5 on 5 play. Check out the possession stats by line last night from Natural Stat Trick:
As you can see, that top line was just straight dominant. 14 Corsi attempts for to only 3 Corsi attempts against. That is pretty incredible. And as a top line, they are playing against the best the Kings have to offer, especially away where the Kings get the last change. Of course, that line scored the only goal at 5 on 5 as well for New Jersey, the Zacha goal at the end of the game coming at 6 on 5 with the goalie pulled in a power-play sort of situation.
However, when you look at the middle 6, you see play that was pretty much even, going back and forth. That was led by the trio of Pavel Zacha, Dawson Mercer, and Alexander Holtz, pulling an even 50% Corsi after almost 10 minutes of 5v5 ice time. It isn’t some amazing performance by the young second line, but one game in for Alex, and the first time they played together, and they managed a decent amount of attempts on net, which is a start.
Moving forward, at least on this road trip, it wouldn’t hurt to try to keep them together for a little to see how they gel. I’m not sure yet I want to see Holtz up here long enough this season to burn a year of his ELC, like I do with Mercer. Mercer should stay here all 82 games, but for Holtz the jury is out at this point for me. I want to see more play, and thankfully we can, as he can play several more games before that call has to be made. And I think it would make the most sense to play him with Mercer just like last night. Let the young kids play together and bond as linemates. Their games are complementary of one another to a large degree, with Mercer as a center and distributor and Holtz as that sniping winger who Mercer can feed time and time again. It makes sense.
Now, last night’s game wasn’t the best start for the duo, they didn’t tilt the ice against what in my opinion is a largely inferior Kings team, but it also was game #1 together, game #1 for Holtz, and they weren’t negative either. Give them time together and time to get acclimated. Now, for the third player, it doesn’t matter much to me. Zacha is fine enough if he plays well with the other two. If they wanted to move up like Tomas Tatar or Janne Kuokkanen instead, that could work too, whoever the coaching staff thinks would go best with the young pair. Just give them time while Holtz is up here and see how they do, see how they would work together. Then, after several more games, evaluate how they have done together and what you want to do with Holtz moving forward, whether to burn that year or not.
To me, that makes more sense than giving Holtz numerous different linemates, to the point where he really cannot gel with anyone else. And honestly, you’re not moving him up to that top line and breaking up the dominant Hischier-Bratt-Johnsson line right now. They are incredibly good at the moment and are staying together. So if you’re moving other pieces around Holtz in a middle-6 setting, that wouldn’t be beneficial to seeing what he could do. Give him consistency so he can gain a level of comfort while here, and that would best be achieved right now by playing with Mercer.
Do you agree? Do you want to see the Holtz-Mercer connection for a few games longer here on this Western road trip? How do you think the two can do together if given time? Do you like Zacha with them, or would you rather see someone else? Do you hope Holtz stays up the entire year, or are you cautious about burning a year of his ELC? Thanks for the comments!
And really quickly, as a total aside and not related at all, of the four lines from last night, you had one line that was downright terrible, the Frederik Gauthier line with Yegor Sharangovitch and Janne Kuokkanen. Gaining no Corsi For attempts at 3 and a half minutes of 5v5 ice time is poor to say the least. Next week at this time, if Sharangovitch is still relegated to fourth line minutes and duties, I might have to write about that transformation, but for now, let’s hope a line that has top liners from last year can turn it around.