Blues coach Ken Hitchcock discovered something last week and members of the media have tried to think of a catchy name for it.
Two Vlads and a Swede … The TBS line … SoBerSenko.
Nothing fits all that well, except the players, of course. Vladimir Sobotka, Vladimir Tarasenko and Patrik Berglund have been a form-fit.
“We kind of threw stuff against the wall with that line,” Hitchcock said. “We didn’t really know where that would get to. But they have some European creative chemistry that is unique. They play an old way, a way that’s probably not familiar for most people watching the game.”
It was a way that used to frustrate the North American teams in Olympic competition, until they adapted, until a Miracle on Ice took place. The North American game was founded on chasing the puck, causing turnovers, counterpunching.
The European way was based on keeping the puck, cycling it and creating opportunities. When you think you know what they’ll do next, they do the opposite.
For illustration, refer to a goal by Ian Cole in the second period goal at Calgary last Thursday night. Tarasenko came out of the corner with the puck, faked his way into the slot, drew everyone’s attention and — as they braced for the shot — slid a pass to Cole on the opposite side.
“All I had to do was hit the middle bar,” Cole said. “There was nobody home.”
Tarasenko was the only member of the line on the ice at the time, but it was Sobersenko-like.
“That’s typical of that line,” Hitchcock said. “They pass when you think they should shoot and they shoot when you think they should pass. And they know how to do it.”
The Blues finally hit a wall in Vancouver on Friday. Five games in nine days and three time zones caught them at Rogers Arena, and their inability to solve goaltender Eddie Lack resulted in a 2-1 loss. It brought an end to a seven-game winning steak and a spate of 21 goals in their four previous games.
Still, the impetus that produced Alex Pietrangelo’s goal against the Canucks was generated by the newly conceived threesome, with Berglund getting an assist.
The point gave left winger Berglund, an artist formerly known as a center, five points and a plus-6 in his last four games. Sobotka, blossoming at center, accounted for six points and plus-6. Tarasenko added six points and a plus-6. That’s 17 points and plus-18 for the set.
Though they come and go — sometimes in the framework of a single period — lines are part of hockey’s culture. They inspire nicknames, parables and marketing hooks.
The Blues have had romantic versions in the past, beginning in the late 1960s, when Red Berenson centered a line flanked by Camille Henry and Ab McDonald. Any Blues fan worth a note on his sweater could identify the “Kid Line,” featuring center Bernie Federko and wingers Brian Sutter and Wayne Babych.
And there was a trio that spent some quality time together in 1989-90. Brett Hull, Adam Oates and Sergio Momesso accounted for 119 goals that season.
And let’s not forget the robust work of the “Backes Bunch” this season. With David Backes at center, and Alexander Steen and T.J. Oshie on the wings, the group carried the Blues’ attack for much of the first half.
But this new combination, this horse with no name, has been something. For however long it lasts, the combination of center Sobotka and wingers Berglund and Tarasenko has been a mighty fine line.
“They think the game differently,” Hitchcock said. “They see openings and space where there doesn’t seem to be any, and they find each other in unique situations, which is pretty much foreign to what a lot of lines look like.
“You hope they don’t get too creative, where they kind of over-pass. But I think they’ve added a certain level of creative mix to our team that’s been contagious. We’re hopeful they continue to play with good chemistry because it’s a really effective line for us right now.”
No one has benefited from the association more than Berglund. Before moving to Sobotka’s side during the second period of a 6-2 win over Columbus on Jan. 4, Berglund had four goals and eight assists during the team’s initial 39 games. Since, he has four goals and one assist.
Berglund recently was named to the Swedish team that will compete in the Olympics at Sochi, Russia. Presumably, he was chosen to play center, but the Swedes may want to re-think that.
“I don’t know,” Berglund joked. “Maybe I should join them as a left wing.”
In reality, the line may not last. The Blues hope to get Steen back soon, and what that does to the mix remains to be seen. Before Backes returned from an injury on the recent trip, Sobotka was creating good magic with Jaden Schwartz and Tarasenko.
Before Steen was injured Dec. 21, he had scored 24 goals in 35 games hanging with Backes and Oshie. Sooner or later, Hitchcock will have to go back to the drawing board and find some creative energy himself.
“Most players think the coach is nuts when he starts changing people,” he said.
But the effectiveness of the line and the success of the exchange program speak to the roster depth that allows Hitchcock to get “nuts.”
“That’s how this team is built,” general manager Doug Armstrong said. “We’re not alpha male heavy. We don’t have a (Sidney) Crosby. We don’t have an (Alexander) Ovechkin, or one of those guys who is going to be competing for a scoring title.
“But we believe we have enough strong players. That’s going to be important for us going forward.”
And no matter how you name it, that’s the most important line of all.