It is no secret that the Winnipeg Jets have been an entirely different team since mid-January, going 9-3 since Paul Maurice took over as head coach. Maurice showed that the Jets could succeed with the roster already in place, something every Jets fan believed in since the beginning of the season. With some tweaks to the lineup, the new coaching staff has seen both offense and defense from their forwards again. However, the Jets’ fourth line has struggled to play to the level of the others, and has Maurice putting very little stock in their line.
One look at the box-score after any Jets game tells the story: three Jets usually have less than 5:00 of time on ice, one or two combined shots, and often, a minus rating. This is unmistakably the Jets’ fourth-liners.
When the Jets were defeated by the Washington Capitals on Thursday night, the fourth line was at it again, as Eric Tangradi and Anthony Peluso both finished with under 4:00 of ice time. Poor line juggling led to a couple of scary shifts against the Caps’ top line, but thankfully, the results weren’t costly.
It isn’t uncommon for teams’ fourth lines to come up short in the production department, but the Jets’ group has seen struggles at both ends of the ice. Great pressure by the team’s top six has led to a rare shift from the trio, only to end with pressure in the Jets’ own zone.
The Jets’ fourth unit misses the entire idea of what their line should do: kill the clock so the likes of Blake Wheeler, Bryan Little, and Mark Scheifele can get back out there and put the puck in the net. Maurice currently takes no stock in the line, and is not confident enough to put them out there for more than one out of every 15 shifts.
Let’s be clear of one thing before we begin breaking it down: most of this is not the fault of Peluso, Tangradi, or whoever was on the line that night. Let me explain:
One team in the NHL possesses one of the most dominant fourth lines the game has seen in a long time: the Chicago Blackhawks. As Tim Lively explained in this article about the Hawks’ fourth line, controlling the game starts with a capital C: that “C” stands for Chemistry.
The Jets don’t have the mentioned mechanic/enforcer/bang-crash trio, merely a muddled reflection of one: Wright often is sub-40% in the faceoff dot, Anthony Peluso has 56 hits (15 Jets have more hits than him), and Tangradi has the potential to be a Ben Smith – esque player, but he is hemmed in the defensive zone every time he is on the ice.
Even with the last line shuffle coming almost 10 games ago, the trio still can’t get anything going, because Wright and O’Dell are switching places between the bench and the press box nearly every game. Wright hasn’t scored once in 56 games this season (Ron Hainsey, anybody?), while O’Dell scored his first two career goals in two consecutive games just under a month ago. He has made 13 appearances this year.
Unfortunately for the pair of pivots, both will be out of a job once the team resumes action after the Olympic break, as Jim Slater is on the verge of making his return. Slater will bring experience and reliability to a line that has lacked both of those since October 18th, when he played his last game before undergoing sports hernia surgery. It is my belief that one or both of the two will head to St. John’s of the AHL (who have been red-hot lately), to get some much-needed playing time while the Olympics are in action.
Slater’s return, and the further addition of Halischuk, could see both players bolster the fourth-line, and boost the play of Peluso, who is most likely to remain where he is today. Peluso’s 92 MPH slap-shot needs to be seen more, and the line could finally find some offense if they earn back the trust that has long-since evaded them.
What do you think? What do the Jets need to do to step up their fourth-line game? Let us know in the comments section.
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