Monday, July 14, 2014

Can the Fourth Line Still Drive Possession?

Mark Letestu in 2012-13 Training Camp
 (Not Gaborik)
Seeing as the Columbus Blue Jackets finished pretty much in the middle of the pack in the NHL, there are plenty of teams out there that are a real handful for our squad.  Our team battled hard in lots of those games, but there were times when the ice was tilted against us, due to the talent and effort of our opponents.  Often times, in such a situation, Head Coach Todd Richards (HCTR) would dump his fourth line out on the ice.  Lead by the indomitable Derek MacKenzie, the fourth line would gain possession, get it into the offensive zone, and start to cycle the puck along the boards.  There were times when the opposing team simply could not regain possession, and HCTR would actually get another line out on the ice before possession was lost.

Now, to be sure, this type of possession is difficult to measure with Fenwick or Corsi statistics, because those statistics have a foundation on a puck getting directed to the net at some point, and I'm not saying our fourth line last year did a ton of that.  So it would be interesting to see those types of statistics for the times when Derek MacKenzie, Blake Comeau, and Corey Tropp were on the ice as our fourth line.  But there were games when HCTR used that line to shift the momentum, and that is a real credit to the effort level of those players.

Corey Tropp is the sole remaining player of that group, and it is thought that Mark Letestu will take over centering that line, with Tropp and Jared Boll as his linemates.  Challenges will be coming from below by D'Amigo, or from higher in the lineup if young talent from the AHL starts to assert itself.  Boll can be a wrecking ball, and as one of the remaining enforcers in the game, if he keeps his mitts on, and concentrates on winning board battles rather than on big hits, then the fourth line will be able to play the same role without Boll sacrificing his deterrence factor.

Mark Letestu is an extremely steady player, but I sometimes wonder if he will be able to replace the fire that MacKenzie brought to the job.  But, Letestu often finds a way to get the job done, time after time, so it is to be hoped that he can lead the fourth line into outplaying the competition.  To me, this is one of the very big questions coming into the 2014-15 season.  It should be interesting, and entertaining to watch it play out.


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