Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Embracing the Thump: Part II

It would be natural for many of our readers to gently chide me for my incessant harping upon the importance of the fourth line, and suggest that, perhaps, some speed and skill on the top lines would be more effective.  And they would be right, a lot of the time.  But an NHL hockey season is an agonizing marathon run in 45 second sprints, but it's a team marathon.  Todd Richards has shown that when he has an effective fourth line, he will just roll his lines and try to exact a physical toll on the opponent.

This was especially apparent in 2013-14 when the CBJ went on a pretty long run of not losing once they had a third period lead and the physical toll of the game was accumulating.  In 2014-15, the fourth line was often ineffective, and we had a nasty habit of coughing up late leads as the injury depleted bench was shortened, the opposite of the aforementioned effect.

More importantly, though, is what Joel Quenneville just pulled off in Chicago, winning a Stanley Cup by essentially playing 4 defensemen.   This is a rather extreme example, but one that I think will be seen more frequently in the future.  The point is, you have to make the other team pay for shortening their defensive bench, and this is where the fourth line comes in.  They either need to get on the ice and pound on the 'royal four', or score on the other two defensemen.  Chicago's defensemen are excellent, but Tampa Bay could not put enough pressure on them with their bottom six to force them out of that mode, or at least to punish them for it.  If faced with such a situation in a playoff series, you need the fourth line to win you a couple of games, assuming that the top players essentially cancel each other out.  And you need to make the other coach reluctant to put his star defensemen on the ice in a highly physical series against anyone but your top lines.  And ideally, you grind them to the point where they are forced out of that mode of play.  This was brilliant and gutsy coaching by Quenneville, backed up by a sterling performance by his top four defensemen.  Your only real weapon in combating that tactic is your fourth line if it is physical and effective.

So my hope is that we have a more stable group on the fourth line this year, and to me, the Gregory Campbell signing goes a long way to ensuring this.  The play of the fourth line will have something to say in whatever success the 2015-16 squad achieves.  Here's my hope that it speaks with a loud voice.


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