The matchup game is always one of the biggest talking points at the start of every Stanley Cup playoff series. Prognosticators breathlessly talk about which line will match up with whom, or coaches efforting to get this defensive pair out on the ice frequently against this player.
The matchup game can be real – depending on the philosophy of the two coaches going head-to-head.
It can also be overblown, as it isn’t always effective, and some coaches appear to get so wrapped up in what the opponent is doing that they lose sight of their own team’s strengths in trying to religiously match lines.
One other trend we’ve seen in recent playoffs is teams that throw their third or fourth line out to start a game. Think the “identity lines” of maybe the Islanders (Matt Martin – Casey Cizikas – Cal Clutterbuck) or last year it was the Tampa Bay trio (Barclay Goodrow – Yanni Gourde – Blake Coleman) that helped drive their success.
Why do coaches do that?
The answer is they want their team to impose their will first and set the tone most quickly.
All teams pre-scout and pass along the information to players. There are no surprises. And actually, the awareness of who is on the ice might force some players to get off too early at times.