Anyone who has been following the Hurricanes this season knows that Kirk Muller's forward line combinations are prone to change on almost a daily basis. Injuries have caused him to try a lot of different things with his lineup and we've seen just about every combination possible in only 33 games. It reached a new high during the recent losing streak when Muller changed the lines a couple times per game and even tweaked the team's first line of Eric Staal, Jiri Tlusty and Alexander Semin, which has been the only unit to remain untouched for most of the season. The line juggling is likely going to continue over the next few games since the Hurricanes have a few players whose injury status is currently unknown, namely Tuomo Ruutu and Chad LaRose.
For most of the year, Muller has kept his first line the same with Tlusty, E. Staal and Semin being utilized in a power-vs.-power type of role while his second line has been primarily focused around Jordan Staal & Jeff Skinner handling the tough minutes. This strategy has changed a bit as of late, though as Muller has moved Skinner to the third line with Riley Nash & Jussi Jokinen for two of their last three road games. My suspicions is that this is to free Skinner up to to some easier matchups on the road since the opposing team won't be able to load up their best shutdown players against Carolina's top-two lines. He also seems to trust Nash enough to assume that he can keep up with Skinner and do enough to drive the bus on this line.
Muller has done some pretty interesting things this year in regards to how he runs his forward lines and the decision to move Skinner to the third line for road games is an especially curious one. On one hand, Skinner has been the team's best territorial forward this season and could do some significant damage against a weak matchup. However, Skinner has also managed to post great underlying numbers while playing tough minutes, so is there any need to protect him and place him with weaker linemates on top of that? This move could be only temporary, but it's still worth discussing since it's a pretty important time of the season right now.
Then there are the defense pairing, which have also been changed up a lot thanks to injuries but they've remained the same as of late. The team is in a bit of a bind right now with Justin Faulk and Bobby Sanguinetti out of the lineup and Muller has kept things relatively the same for the past week. Not having Faulk available obviously limits what Muller can do but it's a little interesting that he has been changing the forwards up constantly while leaving the defense the same after how bad some of them have played lately, especially Joni Pitkanen and Jamie McBain.
Things will probably improve there once Faulk or Sanguinetti returns but until then, Muller has to do what he can to make the most out of the hand that's been dealt to him and that includes finding suitable lines & defense pairings that can fit his system. For the most part, the Canes have been a good puck-possession team at even strength this year and they have enough healthy players to be one right now even though they've struggled in this department lately.
After the jump, we will look at some stats from Hockey Analysis' With or Without You tool to see which Hurricanes lines and defense pairings have been the best in terms of controlling possession this year and what Muller can possibly do now to dress the best lineup possible.