Photo: Jacob Kupferman/Charlotte Checkers
The fourth line of the Hershey Bears has produced the fewest points among the lines for the team thus far in the 2023 Calder Cup playoffs. However, the line has played a big part in the success of the Bears in the first two games against the Charlotte Checkers. As the unit has done all season long, the trio has done the little, but necessary things to help the chocolate and white post victories.
The first example came on the line’s first shift of the series. A rebound from a Beck Malenstyn shot sprung the Checkers the other way. Malenstyn hustled back and checked Mackie Samoskevich off the puck to break up the play.
In the third period of game one, Malenstyn drew a penalty after being cross-checked from behind by Anthony Bitetto. The penalty was preceded by a pair of hits by Malenstyn and another from Riley Sutter. The physical element is a key part to the fourth line’s effectiveness.
With Charlotte on a power play with the goalie pulled late in the third, Sutter cleared the puck out of the zone to relieve pressure and allow Hershey to change out its penalty killers.
The fourth line continued to make a difference in game two. With the Checkers on a power play and under five minutes to go in the first period, Sutter stole a puck, blocked a shot and broke up a pass on the penalty kill. Malenstyn finished off the kill by stealing the puck and sending it out of the zone.
Early in the second period, Sutter buried Ryan McAllister into the boards for a big hit at center ice. Then, the unit would deliver the second goal of the game for the chocolate and white. Malenstyn stole the puck from Riley Nash along the right boards in the defensive zone and poked the puck ahead. Sutter gathered the puck near center ice and moved into the offensive zone. He pulled up at the top of the right circle and hit linemate Mason Morelli in stride at the inside edge of the left circle. Morelli snapped a shot over the blocker of J.F Berube to give the Bears a 2-0 lead.
Defense➡Offense, and Mo has his first tally in the Calder Cup Playoffs!
🍎 Sutter pic.twitter.com/MpuAKF8elu
— Hershey Bears (@TheHersheyBears) April 29, 2023
Morelli is a new addition to the fourth line. The winger spent much of the season on the third line, serving as a mentor and protector to rookie center Hendrix Lapierre. He proved to be Mr. Reliable for Hershey and was the lone Bear to play in all 72 games and played in all situations. Morelli finished third on the team in assists with 29 and fourth in scoring with 41 points. The Minot, North Dakota native slid down to the fourth line with Sutter and Malenstyn for the playoffs due to the return of Aliaksei Protas, Joe Snively and Mike Sgarbossa.
While most teams don’t have the luxury of having their fourth leading scorer on the fourth line, Morelli has transitioned seamlessly to his new role. His game meshes perfectly with Sutter and Malenstyn. He too has a physical aspect to his game and is responsible, defensively. The University of Nebraska-Omaha alum is also a penalty killer like his linemates. Morelli brings more offense to the unit and makes the fourth line even more dangerous.
The trio has the trust of head coach Todd Nelson. After a goal (for or against), the fourth line is usually the line Nelson sends out for the next shift. The unit is also deployed late in games and in their own zone. Sutter’s faceoff prowess is a big part of this, but the entire line is sound in their own end.
Malenstyn is an elite shot blocker and Sutter has become adept at blocking shots as well. The trio also is relied upon to change momentum with their physicality and forechecking. All three members of the line are not afraid to throw the body around and Malenstyn is called Beck “The Check” for a reason.
Beck Malenstyn drops the hammer. #WreckItBeck #BeckTheCheck pic.twitter.com/7YAzz4rHFe
— Capitals Prospects (@jon_m_sorensen) April 29, 2023
Teams need scoring to win in the playoffs, but no team prevails in the grind of the long postseason without players willing to bring the elements that go unseen in the box score. Winning a battle in the corner or delivering the big hit or blocking a shot is not glorious, but it is necessary to be a champion.
The Hershey Bears have an entire line willing to do the little things and that trio will be a big part of any success the chocolate and white have in the post season.
By Eric Lord
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Thank you for the great analysis, Eric Lord! Yes it would be great to see Mo, Sutter and Mal man the Caps fourth line someday
The other Rock the Red: Hope every Caps fan got to see the NJDevils defeat NYR in an epic Seventh Game. It took NJD youngsters two games to figure out how to do Playoff Hockey. Then they took over the series.
Timely stops by “hot” rookie goaltender Schmid. Matching NYR brutality crunch for crunch. But NJD Team Speed was on display. They outskated and outworked their senior opponent. Maybe a “blueprint” for future Caps success?
4th line has been great, doing their job (stopping Checkers top forwards).
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