Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
Across the Metropolitan Division, teams like the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins made moves last offseason to revamp their fourth-lines while the New York Islanders arguably already had the best fourth-line in the NHL. Fourth-lines are usually a team’s best checking line and play against the opposition’s top players in an effort to limit their scoring chances. Some of the best fourth-lines in the NHL are in the Metropolitan Division. NoVa Caps takes a look.
New Jersey Devils
Trio: Miles Wood — Kevin Rooney — John Hayden
When your team is near the bottom of your division with a long way to go to get back in the Stanley Cup Playoff race, you may trade some top players if they are on expiring contracts. That is what the Devils did this year as they drastically underperformed and dealt forwards Taylor Hall, Blake Coleman, and Wayne Simmonds in the last four months of the season.
The Devils’ fourth-line trio combined for 18 goals this season. According to MoneyPuck.com, the line posted a 46.5% expected goals-for percentage, a 1.6 expected goals-for per 60 minutes, and 1.84 expected goals-against.
Wood posted 11 goals, 23 points, and a -19 rating in 68 games this past season while Rooney recorded four goals, nine points, and a +8 rating in 49 games and Hayden tallied three goals, four points, and a -2 rating in 43 games.
New York Rangers
Trio: Brendan Lemieux — Greg McKegg — Brett Howden
Unlike previous years, there wasn’t much change in the Rangers’ forward group as they didn’t move any notable pieces this season. The team acquired Gauthier in a trade with the Hurricanes on February 18 but the trio changed before the NHL season paused due to injuries to forwards Filip Chytil and Chris Kreider. The fourth-line combined for 20 goals this season, which is impressive as the Rangers considered themselves in a rebuild.
The line had an expected goals-for percentage of 39.4%. They were expected to score 1.6 goals-per-60 minutes and allow 2.47.
Lemieux recorded six goals, 18 points, and a -14 rating in 59 games during the regular season while McKegg posted five goals, nine points, and a -2 rating in 53 games, and Howden tallied nine goals, 19 points, and a -11 rating in 70 games.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Trio: Jakob Lilja — Riley Nash — Eric Robinson
The Blue Jackets were near the top of the league when it came to man-games lost this season and didn’t make many roster changes in-season, but this line’s 139.6 minutes together were the second-most on the team. Only the Gustav Nyquist-Boone Jenner-Oliver Bjorkstrand (158.2 minutes) played more together.
The trio scored 14 goals, with Robinson accounting for half of them. They posted a 43.8% expected goals-for percentage with a 1.5 expected-goals for per 60 minutes and 1.93 against.
Lilja posted two goals, five points, and a +5 rating in 37 games while Robinson recorded 12 points and a +10 rating in 50 games, and Nash tallied five goals, 14 points, and a +6 rating in 64 games.
New York Islanders
Trio: Matt Martin — Casey Cizikas — Leo Komarov/Cal Clutterbuck
Clutterbuck is the mainstay on the right side when it comes to this trio but he was limited to 37 games this season and did not play for more than two months due to a wrist injury, which opened the door for Komarov to join the group.
In 161.2 minutes with Komarov, the line posted a 65.4% expected goals-for percentage, an expected 2.61 goals-per-60 minutes, and an expected 1.38 goals-against per 60 minutes. In 141.7 minutes together with Clutterbuck, they recorded a 58.7% expected goals-for percentage, an expected 1.86 goals-per-60, and an expected 1.31 against.
The players on the fourth-line contributed 22 goals this season, accounting for 11.6% of the Islanders’ offense. Martin recorded five goals, eight points, and a -1 rating in 55 games while Cizikas posted 10 goals, 14 points, and a +12 rating in only 48 games; Clutterbuck racked up three goals, seven goals, and a +6 rating in 37 games; and Komarov scored four goals, 14 points, and a +2 rating.
Trio: Warren Foegele — Morgan Geekie — Jordan Martinook
The Hurricanes switched their lines a lot during the regular season and after making several moves at the NHL trade deadline, this trio played only 12.1 minutes together. Geekie played only two games before the season paused, though he recorded three goals in those two games.
The line posted an expected 61.5% goals-for percentage, an 3.98 expected goals per 60 minutes, and 2.49 against.
Foegele and Martinook combined for 15 goals, though Foegele had 13 of them.
Center Lucas Wallmark mostly played with the line before he was dealt to the Florida Panthers on February 24. In 106.5 minutes with Wallmark, Martinook, and Brock McGinn as their fourth-line, they recorded a 58.8% expected goals-for percentage, a 2.82 expected goals-for per 60 minutes, and 1.97 against. The three combined for 20 goals before Wallmark was dealt.
Foegele was productive this season, recording 13 goals, 30 points, and a +9 rating in 68 games while Martinook posted two goals, 13 points, and a -2 rating in 45 games.
Trio: Brandon Tanev — Teddy Blueger — Zach Aston-Reese
The Penguins’ fourth-line played a team-high 426.5 minutes together, nearly two times as much as the next-highest played line. That is incredible considering how much the team was banged up this season, especially with their top players.
The trio posted a 55.4% expected goals-for percentage, a 1.81 expected goals-per-60 minutes, and a remarkable 0.6 expected goals-against per 60, signaling that they are one of the best shutdown lines in the NHL.
The three also produced offensively as they combined for 26 goals this season with Aston-Reese recording six goals, 13 points, and a +6 rating in 57 games; Blueger posting nine goals, 22 points, and a +2 rating in 69 games; and Tanev scoring 11 goals, 25 points, and a -1 rating in 68 games.
Trio: Michael Raffl — Nate Thompson — Nicolas Aube-Kubel
After the team acquired Thompson from the Montreal Canadiens at the NHL Trade Deadline, the three played 56.7 minutes together and posted a 52.9% expected goals-for percentage, a 1.9 expected goals-for per 60 minutes, and 1.69 against to make for a reliable shut down line.
The trio combined for 15 goals. Thompson recorded four goals in 63 games with the Canadiens prior to the trade.
Aube-Kubel was an excellent addition as he was one of the team’s most reliable when it came to defense and accounted for nearly half (seven) of the trio’s production. He also posted 15 points and a +1 rating in 36 games while Thompson has recorded 15 points and a -1 rating in 70 games. Raffl tallied eight goals, 20 points, and a -2 rating in 58 games.
After the fourth-line was a revolving door for the reigning Metropolitan Division champions during the 2018-19 season, it became one of the league’s best this year with the free-agent signings of Hathaway and Panik, who was demoted to the line after the team acquired forward Ilya Kovalchuk from the Montreal Canadiens just prior to the NHL Trade Deadline.
In 47.4 minutes played together, the three recorded a solid 75% expected goals-for percentage, a 3.42 expected goals-per-60 minutes, and 1.14 against.
The three combined for 25 goals during the entirety of the regular season, including seven goals in seven games after Kovalchuk was acquired. Panik (seven), Dowd (five), and Hathaway (four) were also second, third, and fourth, respectively, among their team in point production after the trade deadline behind captain Alex Ovechkin (eight). They combined for six points in the team’s final win of the regular season, a 5-2 victory over the Penguins on March 6.
Panik finished the 2019-20 regular season with nine goals, 22 points, a +16 in 59 games; Hathaway recorded nine goals, 16 points, and a +6 rating in 66 games; and Dowd tallied seven goals, 15 points, and a +11 rating in 56 games.
By Harrison Brown