Familiarity Equals Success for Columbus Linemates
In an NHL dressing room, familiarity doesn’t breed contempt – it creates chemistry.
The Blue Jackets Manny Malhotra and Jason Chimera are a prime example. The gritty forward combo has logged a lot of time playing alongside each other and as their comfort level grows, they have clearly begun to have a greater impact on the outcome of hockey games.
Having Malhotra and Chimera on the ice at the same time usually translates into good things for Columbus.
“When you’re playing with a new guy all the time, you have to get used to their tendencies,” said Malhotra. “That may take a couple of shifts, it may take a period to get used to. While you’re getting into that groove trying to figure it out, you’re wasting precious time to play the game.
“I know Chimmer. I know where he’s going to be. It just makes things easier. You just play the game. You play the game rather than try to think it through.”
Chimera says that consistent pairings can add so much to a player’s game. When he hits the ice with Malhotra, he knows exactly what’s expected from their unit and more importantly, that they’ll have chances to put the puck in the net during their regular shift.
“You’re confident coming into a game, you know you’re going to make some plays, you know you’re going to get some scoring opportunities,” Chimera explained. “Back in Edmonton, I was one of those guys that were in and out of the lineup and playing with different guys every night.
“It was pretty frustrating.”
Some of the greatest lines in NHL history were units that had the chance to play together for long periods of time. Detroit’s famous Grind Line of Darren McCarty, Kirk Maltby and Kris Draper were tough to play against because of their ferocious checking and ability to score timely goals.
Chimera and Malhotra form two thirds of a unit similar to Detroit’s line. They’re the Blue Jackets’ energy line, establishing the tone of a game and wearing down defenses with their uncompromising work ethic.
Rookie Jared Boll got a chance to ride shotgun with the pair in the early part of the season, but fourth-year man Dan Fritsche is back in the fold, reuniting a trio that had great success throughout much of last year.
“It’s awesome playing with those guys,” says Fritsche. “We all think alike, we’re all doing the same thing, we get the puck deep we know one of us is going be there on the puck first. We have good chemistry together and work well. “We just keep going after them, we’re not going to sit back, that’s not the way we play.”
Be it with Boll or Fritsche, the line has had success this year. They have played prominent roles in specific wins, namely opening night when Columbus blanked the defending Stanley Cup champion Anaheim Ducks 4-0. In a recent 2-1 home win over San Jose, Fritsche scored a key goal and in this week’s 4-1 road victory over the L.A. Kings in which Chimera scored two of his three goals on the year.
Malhotra says what he enjoys most about playing with Chimera and either one of the youngsters is the speed and simplicity of their approach.
“There’s not a lot of East/West going on in our game,” he says. “I know where the puck’s going and I know where to put it. It takes a lot of guesswork out of it. Once you have that kind of sense for guys, it makes the game flow that much better.
“Once the puck goes behind the net, I know they’re going to fight off a check or I know to get open in the slot, as opposed to not knowing what to expect from a certain guy.” For Chimera, Malhotra is as reliable a linemate as he’s ever had.
“Manny and I have played together for a while now so we’re pretty familiar with each other,” he says. “We read off of each other well. All over the ice, I know where Manny’s going to be, at certain times and during different plays. He always seems to be in good support position. If you’re chipping, he’s going to be there for you.
“He’s always there when you need him. If you throw the puck out there without even looking some times, he’s there.” When the line takes a shift, the combination of speed and aggressive fore-checking inevitably causes fits for opponents, especially when they get a good cycle going. It challenges the defense, which pays off late.
Malhotra says it’s evident over the course of a game, specifically during those prolonged shifts when the line is in the offensive zone a long time.
“You’re getting them tired, keeping them on the ice for 45 seconds playing defensive hockey,” he says. “Once you get three, four, five, six shifts like that against a line or a D pair, you know you’re in that groove and you know they’re getting frustrated with the game.
“I think that’s why we’re successful drawing penalties.”
Knowing each other’s tendencies plays such a large role in the success Malhotra and Chimera have had. However, the real friendship, Malhotra explains, is off the ice.
“You get to know somebody away from the rink, you get to know their personality, you get to know what really makes them tick,” he says. “That’s why the chemistry on the ice happens, because we’re friends off the ice.”