Buffalo Sabres' interim head coach Ted Nolan now knows everyone's name. During the first few games, he quipped that he was forced to say, “Hey you!” on the bench.
Now he's got it though. And now he can start hunting for players' skill sets that gel together.
At a glance, putting 19-year-old Mikhail Grigorenko with 19-year-old Zemgus Girgensons and 23-year-old Luke Adam on a line might appear to be the antithesis of what Nolan griped over when he took the reins from Ron Rolston. The Sabres' interim honcho said he was partial to the veteran players and felt it unfair that under-20s had to face the league's best.
But he's been forced per the NHL to give Grigorenko a shot – they rejected Buffalo's attempt to send him to Rochester for a few weeks.
“Anyone can see his skill set,” Nolan said following Tuesday's practice. “He's a big man and has a tremendous shot. It all comes down to maturity before he'll be able to demonstrate the skill at the National Hockey League level.
“Since we put him with Girgensons and Adam, they are the same age group where they feel comfortable with one another”
Adam was having a super year in Rochester, leading the Rochester Amerks in goals at the time of his call up. And Girgensons is 19 going on 29 – especially now that he's got the Movember look going.
It turns out the unexpected linefellows – all of which consider themselves natural centers – turned in a darn good performance against the Detroit Red Wings. Girgensons was dominant at times, once ringing a blazing shot off the post and another having a partial breakaway that was thwarted by a should-have-been penalty.
Adam played a different type of game vs. Detroit than we've ever seen from him in the NHL. He back-checked hard, threw his body around and added some life to the ice.
“It comes with maturity, it comes with age, experience, all those things,” Adam said. “I feel a lot more comfortable getting pucks on the walls, winning battles, getting pucks out. It's so important at the NHL level to be good at the blue lines.”
The results of the line didn't show up in the form of a goal, but it did in puck possession numbers.
Here are their Corsi % from BUF vs. DET (Corsi % is percentage of total shot attempts taken while on-ice)
Why the success? In part it was because Cody Hodgson, Matt Moulson and Drew Stafford took the brunt of future Hall of Famer Henrik Zetterberg's line. It also could be good old fashioned chemistry. Girgensons and Adam spent all last year together in Rochester – though not often on the same line.
“I think a lot of it is about the off-ice chemistry,” Girgensons said. “You know the guy and you feel comfortable. He's been in the NHL before, but he's not a super-vet. It's easier to play with a guy who's younger too. It takes off the pressure.”
They were only bettered by the Brian Flynn, Corey Tropp, Marcus Foligno line in Corsi percentage – but spent more time on ice by about five minutes each.
How long will Nolan keep them together? It's hard to say. He told WGR on Tuesday that and Hockey Ops President Pat LaFontaine are spending countless hours analyzing the roster. There's a good argument to be made that Tropp could use more minutes and that others are deserving of losing minutes. So shake-ups are probable.
At least against Montreal, it appears the Age Group line will be back together again. We'll see if they keep playing above their youth.
Nolan's lines were identical to those vs. Detroit. Still no signs of Cody McCormick.