Putting together the ideal fourth line
In case you missed it, and I’m pretty sure you haven’t, the Rangers have inserted Tanner Glass back to the fourth line. In the process, Jesper Fast has been scratched from the lineup. It’s October, so it’s not worth panicking yet (as I mentioned this morning), but this is a bit of an alarming move.
The Rangers need a solid fourth line to compete for a Stanley Cup this year. Scoring and skating depth throughout the lineup is critical, as is a fourth line that can eat up defensive zone starts. The Rangers had this in 2013-2014, and rode that roster construction all the way to the Stanley Cup Final.
The Rangers did not have that last year. The scoring suffered. The defense suffered. And while injuries certainly played a role in their seven game loss to the Lightning, the roster was not constructed to give the Rangers their best chance at winning.
Which brings us back to the decision to sit Fast for Glass. Alain Vigneault said that it was due to Fast’s poor puck possession in the first two games. There’s some merit to that, as Fast has a 42.1% CF in those games, down from 48.7% last year. Fast saw his offensive zone starts slashed in half, from 40% last year to less than 20% this year, through two games.
I say “some” merit because, as mentioned, it was two games. Two games is not enough of a sample to accurately judge a player. Meanwhile, the person who subbed for him –Glass– was one of just three players with positive possession against Columbus, his one game this year. Glass had the same 20% offensive zone starts. But again, it was one game.
All this falls under AV tinkering with his lineup in October, like he always does. Over the course of a full season, Glass will see his possession numbers regress to his career average (about 42%). Fast should get back to around 47-48 per cent.
Why does all this matter?
The fourth line’s usage creates a ripple effect for the rest of the lines. Last year, AV could not pin his fourth line in the defensive zone 70% of the time. That led to giving them about 50% offensive zone starts. That in turn takes away offensive zone starts from the top-nine. The top-nine are the better offensive players. Catch where I’m going with this?
The point of the fourth line for an AV team is to eat those DZ minutes, which allows the scoring forwards more opportunities in the OZ. Dominic Moore excels in that role. As does Jesper Fast. Jarret Stoll is only sporting a 44.6% CF, which again is through just three games, but represent a massive drop from his usual 50% possession rate.
The ideal fourth line not only eats those DZ starts, but pushes the puck up the ice, out of the DZ. That rare combination of strong in the defensive zone while adept at puck movement is something both Moore and Fast have. Glass doesn’t have that skill set. It’s too early to tell on Stoll.
Personally, my ideal fourth line is what we saw in the first two games. I don’t think there is a permanent role for Glass in the long run. I’m ok with AV tinkering early on, and I’m cautiously optimistic that the right decisions will be made. But this decision, for now, has me concerned.