It’s no secret that I am a big proponent of four skill lines that can put the puck in the net. If I haven’t come out and said it, it’s been implied in almost every post I’ve written about lineup decisions and forwards. The best teams in the league, the ones that are true Cup contenders, are ones that have four skill lines. And the reason is simple. Matchups.
The Rangers’ fourth line scored twice on Saturday against Minnesota –a game I did not watch, as I was at a wedding– while dressing three young skilled guys on that fourth line. It was the first game in a week where the most polarizing fourth line player in history (Tanner Glass) did not play. Jimmy Vesey and Oscar Lindberg scored. Lindberg and Pavel Buchnevich also had assists.
Adam Clendening, in for Steven Kampfer, also had an assist.
The matchup against Minnesota was one where the Rangers absolutely needed the speed and skill. Minnesota can move the puck up and down the lineup, and the club needed to counter that speed with speed of their own. It’s how the best in the NHL play the game nowadays.
And without that fourth line, perhaps the Rangers lose the game. We honestly don’t know, but we can infer that without three truly skilled players, the Rangers do not score those two goals. And therein lies the key here. Matchups.
A fourth line will almost always draw bottom defense pairings. It’s more of a default since coaches will match their best defensemen against top lines, but the favorable matchups are there nonetheless. In a game where you need to outscore your opponent, taking advantage of such matchups becomes critical to future success. This is especially true in the playoffs.
The Rangers will have a date with either Ottawa or Montreal in the first round. Currently the Habs’ third pair is Nathan Beaulieu-Jordie Benn. For the Sens it’s Mark Borowiecki-Chris Wideman. Close your eyes for a second. Picture Buchnevich shredding either of those pairs and dishing to Vesey in front of the net for a goal. Now picture Tanner Glass attempting to do the same thing.
Exploiting matchups with scoring depth is how the best teams win Stanley Cups. Yes, the elite talent and top line talent is still critical. However remember how much the HBK line scored for Pittsburgh? That was their third line, with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin drawing top-four matchups on separate lines. Matchups are everything.
For the Rangers to succeed, they will need to exploit every matchup possible. Their defensive unit isn’t strong, so they will need to outscore their opponents. What better way than to dress one of the more dangerous fourth lines in hockey?