In hockey, as in any sport, repetition creates mastery, hones instincts. Familiarity with teammates feeds intuition, and also strengthens instincts.
But in life, and in any sport, routine can sometimes breed staleness. Lazy habits. Susceptibility to being too predictable, too easy for your opponent to counteract, too tempted to take shortcuts that make those instincts moot, too reliant on your linemate to carry the weight.
These, in a nutshell, are why teams try to build strong lines they can keep together, and why teams sometimes break them apart.
But That's Not How My Video Game Works
It is your right as a fan to complain about lines. It is your right to complain about them when you think they are held the same or static for too long. It is your right to complain when they are changed suddenly, for seemingly random or not exactly clear or data-based reasons.
But keeping lines that have worked, and changing lines within a game to create a different look, to shake up a specific player, or to avoid a certain matchup, are all tactics nearly as old as the NHL itself.
Joel Quenneville, who is in okay company among all-time NHL coaches, is famous for mixing up his lines early in a game when things don't "feel" right. The "Q Blender" can be infuriating to fans, and it sometimes looks like the work of an insane person. But in the end it's usually okay.
It's worth remembering for the heat of the moment, in the season to come, when over 82 games lines combos will permanently or temporarily change more than you can count.
Tavares on the Nature of Lines
So I'm just going to leave this here, from your New York Islanders captain. Feel free to print it, put it in your pocket, and pull it out each and every time you feel the urge to go on a 300-word line rant or 50-comment tirade this season:
For Tavares, he understands there are positives in playing with the same players for a long time — as well as the occasional mix-up.
"I think the more you play with someone, the more you know about their game," the captain said. "You develop chemistry, and things just kind of become habit, stuff you really can’t teach over a short period of time.
"But at the same time, sometimes a change just to mix things up — whether you’re just not creating as many opportunities, maybe to simplify your game — sometimes it can be a good thing to mix and match. Sometimes the guys you play with, they don’t change your style of game, but they can get you going with good habits, and simplifying."
That's John Tavares in the Post for a story about constructing the latest edition of the first line. If I have to explain to you the actual hockey experience he's referring to, I can. But I think it's clear in the above.
It's part man management. Part game strategy. Part at-wit's-end desperation, no doubt. But the team will find lines that work. They will stick with some despite slumps. They will mix some up to end slumps or alter matchups.
It will be okay.