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Diving deeper into the puzzling ice time for the fourth line

Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Depth has been a discussion point around here since before the lockout, to the point where we have too many posts to link to when we bring it up again. Despite an injury to Arron Asham, the Rangers have more useful depth this year than they have had in years past. They have a fourth line capable of eating 10-12 minutes of ice time per game when healthy, with some of that coming on the penalty kill. Depth is critical for a team like the Rangers, who will need all four lines to make a deep Cup run.

Despite all this, the Rangers fourth line barely saw seven minutes of ice time each. Eliminating Stu Bickel from the equation, as he’s only in because Asham is out, it makes you wonder why there is no trust from the coaching staff. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a post bashing anyone –as you all know, we love Torts here and aren’t afraid to show it– but it’s still worth asking why these guys don’t get ice time.

Darroll Powe and Jeff Halpern get key penalty killing time –and did so incredibly effectively last night– but barely get any shifts at even strength. The two of them received nine shifts each forĀ  the game last night, which includes their penalty killing shifts. Even in the win against Tampa Bay, they didn’t sniff ten minutes of ice time, although they played more shifts.

Some of this is justified by their underlying metrics. Both Powe and Halpern get your typical fourth line QoC assignments (Halpern: -.120, Powe: -.182), so that’s not surprising. What is surprising is their lack of efficiency and effectiveness, specifically Powe. While Halpern’s RCorsi of -6.6 (-2.6 CorsiON) isn’t great, it’s not exactly awful either. Powe is the worst on the team at the moment. His -24.0 RCorsi is awful, but is compounded by his -20.04 CorsiON, making him incredibly inefficient at even strength play thus far.

Now, those Corsi numbers are a bit skewed due to the number of shifts they start in the offensive zone. These two are the new Ruslan Fedotenko/Brandon Prust combination for the Rangers. Halpern starts 27.6% of his shifts in the offensive zone and Powe 31.8%, with these percentages representing starts after a whistle. It’s incredibly difficult to have positive puck possession numbers when you start 70% of your shifts in the defensive zone. In that regard, I’m willing to dismiss Halpern’s Corsi numbers entirely, and give Powe a bit of a reprieve (although his numbers are terrible).

But if Torts trusts them to start those shifts in the defensive zone, why aren’t they getting more playing time? We’ve heard Torts mention Corsi in his pre-game interviews, so is it his monitoring of that metric? Or iIs it strictly because they are being weighed down by the presence of Bickel on their line? It could be the latter, as Asham started just 23.9% of his shifts in the offensive zone. Bickel on the other hand is getting 46% of his starts in the offensive zone. That’s a huge discrepancy.

So let’s eliminate the Bickel factor here. To do that, we need to find games when both Asham and Powe played together. Considering their injuries, it’s actually fewer games than you might think. In fact, they’ve only played six games together (2/5, 2/7, 2/10, 2/12, 2/14, 2/17). The Rangers record in that stretch: 4-1-1. It may be a coincidence, but the ice time shows us other wise. Except for the 2/17 Washington game (and the 2/14 Islander game where Asham lost a fight five minutes in and didn’t play again), both guys played around 7-10 minutes per game. Halpern got over 10 minutes of ice time in each game (except for that Washington game).

Torts isn’t the kind of coach that is going to roll his fourth line with regularity. He believes in rolling his top guys, and bringing out his fourth line sparingly. That said, Torts is also the type of coach that will recognize the strengths of his players, and play them in that regard. For Halpern and Powe, it’s their ability to take crucial shifts in the defensive zone and hold the fort. Asham plays into that as well. Bickel does not. His zone starts don’t fit that equation.

We are all looking at the ice time disparities and questioning why these guys aren’t getting ice time. The answer appears to be simple, but not so simple at the same time. Until Asham gets healthy (these must be some epic back spasms), the Rangers will be faced with dressing 11.5 forwards, and Halpern/Powe will need to get used to having their ice time affected by having a defenseman playing forward with them.

9 Responses to “Diving deeper into the puzzling ice time for the fourth line”

  1. Ray says:

    Like you guys, I like Tortorella, but I don’t endorse all of his tendencies. He is extreme in wanting his best players on the ice and I think he has actually gotten better about giving ice time to his third line. Except on days where the top guys are getting the job done and the fourth line is, the fourth line is going to play sparingly at even strength. It isn’t about trust, it’s about having the best players on the ice. [Trust is the difference between 2 and 6 minutes, not 2 and 12.]
    If the Rangers wanted a better fourth line now, they could bring Ferreiro back up as Torts seems to trust him and he is finally healthy again.
    By the by, for those not old enough to remember, NHL teams used to have 16 skaters – 11 forwards and 5 defensemen – and three of them were essentially spare parts. The fifth defensemen didn’t always get even one shift.

    • Dave says:

      I think they were waiting for Ferriero to play a game or two at the AHL level before recalling him. I’d like to see him over Bickel in speed games like Buffalo. We won’t see him against Philly though.

  2. Josh says:

    I think depth is not an issue at this point but could take the team to the next level. BSB has been saying it for years. This team will not be at the top till Boyle is the 4th line center. To this point Halpern has completly outshined Boyle in everything they should be doing (while making less money).

    If the team had a skilled forward to play with Miller and Gabby it would be a great offensive line. At this point Boyle should never be on a line above 4th. They are missing a third line scorer, maybe second line and Pyatt goes to third. I’d love to see Kreider build some confidence then come back and have a line of Kreider Miller Gabby.

  3. bill says:

    In hockey its tough to play four lines, your best guys will suffer, rolling 3 is ideal but those 4th liners must fulfill roles like PK, energy on the odd shift, etc. I’ve played a high level of hockey and you want to be on the ice as much as possible if you’re on e of the top guys, need to stay in that flow. Add in all those tv timeouts and you get cold on the bench. But torts usually plays two lines so that’s where the adjustment needs to be.

  4. rickyrants13 says:

    Wow rolling 4 lines kill your top lines??? Never has been said during a Hockey game EVER. The fact that Torts cant get anything out of his 4th line just shows how bad his coaching is. With players like Ferriero, Halley and Palmieri all players who have time in the NHL at the ready. He should be fired for playing Bickel at all.

    No one is saying that these guys are the answer to everything. But if people like us can see that they are better options then Bickel thats pretty sad…

  5. SalMerc says:

    The fourth line needs to earn more than 8 minutes a game. So far, that rarely happens.

  6. TxRanger says:

    at least we can complain about our fourth line these days…