VANCOUVER -- Apparently, Darryl Sutter can stitch together a new lineup as easily as he can one of his farm animals.
With the depth additions made over the last five weeks, the possibilities are now endless for a team that may spend portions of the final 20 games trying different line combinations.
The impetus for Saturday’s shakeup revolved around trying to snap out of a string that had seen the Calgary Flames shut out in two of their last three outings.
With an eye on avenging a 7-1 loss here three weeks ago, Sutter chose to break up his top line, replacing Matthew Tkachuk with Tyler Toffoli.
It was just the second time this season Johnny Gaudreau and Elias Lindholm played with anyone other than Tkachuk.
Sutter started backup Dan Vladar, threw Mikael Backund between Dillon Dube and Tkachuk, while Calle Jarnkrok was with wingers Andrew Mangiapane and Blake Coleman.
And he was comfortable with doing all of it against a Canucks club seeking to climb back into a wild card spot.
“We hadn’t had much 5-on-5 scoring lately out of our goal scorers – very few chances other than odd-man situations or that sort of thing,” reasoned Sutter, following a 5-2 win in which the Flames fired 44 shots on net.
“Just tried to move them around a little and see if we can get something.
“We’re a team that has to kill plays. If we’re going to try to make fancy plays and long plays, that doesn’t work for our team. It’s one of the reasons we changed lines up. There’s getting to be too many 70-footers and home runs. You’ve got to touch all the bases. Tonight we had more guys doing it.”
Rewarded for a start that saw the Flames hem in and punish a team that showed no signs of the desperation required to get back into the playoff race, Noah Hanifin, Tkachuk and Rasmus Andersson put the Flames up 3-0 less than 15 minutes into the night.
A fair chunk of locals booed the Canucks off the ice after the opening stanza.
After an early pushback from the hosts to start the second period, Lindholm put the game away with his 31st well before the midway mark, eventually chasing Thatcher Demko from the game.
“Trying to get Tyler going again, and Lindy -- see how it looks,” said Sutter, who may have spurred on a new T-shirt line one night earlier when he boasted he could sew up a cow or horse faster than his club was able to stitch up Erik Gudbranson.
“Mikael and Matthew and Dillon have played together before, so it wasn’t like it was fresh for them.
“I think lines are probably more settled than … ever.
“When you think about it, other than one game in Carolina, Lindy, Johnny and Matthew have played together every game this year. I think sometimes you just have to freshen it up a little. They get a little stale.”
He wouldn’t commit to keeping the lines as is, promising to decide after he watches video of the game.
With the addition of Jarnkrok and Toffoli, Sutter has what every coach craves: depth, competition and versatility up front.
Their arrival gives Sutter the manpower to make moves like these.
“It’s the only way it’s possible,” he agreed, tipping his cap to Toffoli, who made a great play to set up Lindholm’s finish.
“Who else could you have put on with Lindy and Johnny? When you look at it, there’s no one else that can.”
Experimenting with it all could be the norm down the stretch.
“We weren’t good enough last game as a team, especially my line,” said Tkachuk, who added two assists less than 24 hours after being blanked at home by Buffalo 1-0.
“I think it was good to get a couple different looks today. Something had to change after last night’s game. It was probably the worst game of the year. It definitely helped in our first period.”
So did the memory of their humiliation here three weeks earlier.
“We pretty much got embarrassed that night and it was our last game of the regular season here in this rink – we had one more crack at getting back at them,” said Tkachuk.
“I thought especially after the way we played the last time in here it was good for our confidence to get a start and get a lead.
“Hani had a nice goal to get that first one for us, then we had a few shifts of sustained pressure that got us two and three. We probably could have had more after the first to be honest. It set up the rest of our game.”
After Johnny Gaudreau’s power-play goal early in the third, the Canucks spoiled Vladar’s shutout, scoring twice on the 25 shots they sent his way throughout the evening.
The Flames host San Jose on Tuesday, one day after the NHL trade deadline, which may still see Calgary add a seventh or eighth blue-liner as playoff insurance.