Fourth line depth a critical key to success for the Rangers

Photo: Frank Franklin II AP

Photo: Frank Franklin II AP

One of the many issues the Rangers have dealt with in the past is depth, specifically on the fourth line. The inconsistency is what led previous coach John Tortorella to play the line just five minutes a night (much to the chagrin of the fans). Last year saw endless combinations of Taylor Pyatt, Darroll Powe, Arron Asham, Derek Dorsett, or –in the playoffs– Brad Richards. In 2011-2012 it was some combination of Mike Rupp, John Mitchell, and a rotating right winger.

The key here is that the Brian Boyle line, whoever he was playing with, was always the third line. The Boyle, Brandon Prust, Ruslan Fedotenko line, the one we all loved so much, was playing top-nine minutes. Not to take anything away from them, as they were one of the better shutdown lines in the game, but that trio –on a deep team poised for a run to the Cup– is a fourth line. It’s something we harped on ’round these parts for about three years.

Our exact quote: “When Brian Boyle is our fourth line center, we will finally have the depth required to make a deep run.”

Well, the Rangers finally have that kind of depth. Boyle, Dominic Moore, Derek Dorsett, and, to a lesser extent, Dan Carcillo have combined to be one of the best fourth lines in the game. Night in and night out, they are tasked with starting almost 70% of their shifts in the defensive zone against some of the best offensive weapons the opposition has to offer. The usage chart below shows just how the fourth line is used for matchups (Carcillo doesn’t meet the minimum games played requirement, so he’s not on the chart):

Courtesy of ExtraSkater

Courtesy of ExtraSkater

The zone start differences between the fourth line and the rest of the team is ridiculous. They are the only forwards that don’t start 50% or more of their shifts in the offensive zone. There is a level of trust that the coaching staff has in this trio (or quartet if you include Carcillo) that has given the top-nine freedom to create offense. When Boyle anchored the third line in a similar role, the fourth line was relatively useless, and the Rangers were left with just three capable lines.

The quality of competition bar is a bit misleading here, as we would expect the likes of Rick Nash and Derek Stepan to get the top pairing defensemen as their matchup, which is why their QoC is so high. In regards to matchups for the fourth line, we can look at Boyle’s 5v5 Even Strength Against You Statistics from HockeyAnalysis (using Boyle only, as we only need to look up one guy since this trio has always played together, barring injury). This gives us the players that Boyle lines up against the most. Names like Perry, Getzlaf, Ovechkin, Crosby, Jagr, Lecavalier, Staal, and Semin top that list. He’s not playing against the bottom-feeders.

This trio hasn’t been without their struggles. Both Moore and Dorsett struggled early, and until recently, the trio couldn’t contribute offensively on a consistent basis. Now, as the season is wrapping up, both Moore and Boyle are within range of 20 points. Dorsett is on a 15(ish) point pace. They are taking advantage of offensive opportunities when they are able to get the puck deep and work the forecheck. Again, this was something we haven’t seen from the fourth line until this year.

Perhaps the biggest difference is that the Rangers have the top-nine depth to allow Boyle –and in turn, Moore, Dorsett, and Carcillo– to play a fourth line, defensive role. They don’t need to contribute 20 goals or 40 points each. That’s not their job. Their job is to play solid defense, take the defensive zone draws, and chip in occasionally when the opportunity presents itself.

Deep teams make runs in the playoffs. Teams that can roll three offensive lines with one defensive line make runs in the playoffs. For the first time in a long time, the Rangers are not a three line team. They have the depth to roll four lines consistently. As that fourth line continues to chip in offensively, they become more and more dangerous as well.

21 Responses to “Fourth line depth a critical key to success for the Rangers”

  1. Seahorse says:

    When when they weren’t scoring they were doing a good job of getting the puck deep cycling and tilting the ice for everyone else

    • Dave says:

      Once that line got rolling, the Rangers became a much tougher team to play against. They won’t be as tough as the 11-12 team, but this team is significantly better.

  2. The Suit says:

    So in other words, no excuses this year. We have depth. We have elite talent. Time to put it all together. Cup or bust.

    • Dave says:

      I’d say Cup Finals or bust. The WC is scary good. But you’re right, no excuses.

      • Chris F says:

        As good as this team can be, they still haven’t put it all together. They need more from Nash, MSL and Richards.

        Getting through the Bruins is no easy task. They will need their best players to play like it.

        • Dave says:

          They can survive the first round without major contributions from those three, but they will need to put it together to still draw top pairing defensive matchups. That will open up the ice for the others.

    • Rangers Fan in Boston says:

      You’re right. AV has been given all the tools in my opinion.

      Not to beat a dead horse, but MSL really needs to pick it up for this team to really reach its potential. And a few more PP goals.

      • Dave says:

        Suit’s post on why he is struggling is a solid one. He’s a pro though, I expect he will adjust soon.

        • Rangers Fan in Boston says:

          I expect the same, and feel good enough about his track record to justify that, but it doesn’t always happen. See Jarome Iginla with Pitt last season.

          In keeping with the topic though, I love the depth this team has and what it can mean for their chances this year.

  3. SalMerc says:

    As with any Cup run, you need an awful lot to go your way. Momentum, a hot goalie, no injuries and contributions up and down the roster. And don’t forget a favorable bounce or two. We seem to have the pieces in place, but will 20 work as 1? That’s where AV comes in. He seems to have a mild approach that keeps the team on course. We will find out if the team is ready to follow the general far into the playoffs.

    • Dave says:

      The Rangers are the 2nd best team in the EC in regards to puck possession but one of the worst with PDO. Statistics say they will start scoring a bit more, evening out that 6.1% shooting percentage. They should hopefully make a run.

      • SalMerc says:

        MSL can make the difference here when he starts finding the back of the net. I also feel if AV continues to roll 4 lines, the first two lines will have something in the tank in the 3rd to propel us as well.

        • Dave says:

          I think that’s what I’m looking forward to the most. Seeing how fresh the top-nine will be with the 4th line getting regular minutes. That held us back in 11-12.

      • Chris A says:

        Dave, I never checked the Rangers PDO. It’s certainly a telling figure for this squad. I will say that the numbers match what I felt I have been watching most of the season.

        High possession and low PDO means the Rangers are dominating games but losing thanks to getting bad bounces or facing hot goalies right?

        Doesn’t this also mean this team is due for a torrid streak simply with their PDO getting some positive regression?

  4. Hatrick Swayze says:

    I, for one, very much remember the post which yielded the below quote:

    “When Brian Boyle is our fourth line center, we will finally have the depth required to make a deep run.”

    bsb4life

    The other part of the equation here is that our blueline also seems to have the necessary depth this year. I think the days of Stu Bickelesque ice time are over. 3 pairings of D, all of whom can hang, and a very capable 7th man in the case of an injury.

  5. Chris F says:

    Vancouver has been decimated by injuries all season, and is adjusting to a new coaching philosophy in an Olympic-interrupted season. Not to mention, upper management shipped out both Schnieder and Luongo (two # goalies) this season. Hardly a winning formula.

    I’d cut Torts some slack this season.

  6. Walt says:

    Dave said that the 4th line, when going still would not be as good as the 11-12 version???? Not so sure there, because Dorsett, or Moore are better than Feds, and Prust on skill only. Taking nothing away from Prust, great heart & soul guy, but talent wise this version of our 4th line is better!!

    Keep Brass-Zucc-Poutliot together, work their magic moving other pieces, this line is fun to watch!! Just move Hags up to the top line in plave of Kreider, and have JT, along with MSL together with BR!!!!!

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