(Hockey StL) -- If Thursday night wasn’t a perfect example of how good the Blues’ fourth line is, there is no satisfactory example coming. Whether you determine a line’s worth based on its goal production, its overall play, or its intensity, look no farther than the line of Adam Cracknell, Chris Porter, and Ryan Reaves.
This line’s play is nothing new, rather the complete opposite. The Blues have relied on their bottom line to provide a much-needed spark for the better part of the season. The fourth line has had many different inhabitants this season, ranging from Jamie Langenbrunner, to Chris Porter, to the recently added Cracknell.
Langenbrunner was ruled out for the remainder of the season in mid-February after having hip surgery to replace a torn labrum. With no disrespect to Langenbrunner, his injury did not hinder the team. Since Langenrbunner has been out, the Blues have seen their fourth line become more than just a checking line; it has become a real asset.
“They’ve just got great chemistry,” said Hitchcock in a video posted on the Blues’ website. “Everything from them is work-based. They compete, they’re strong on the puck, they’re strong. I don’t really know that you can call it a fourth line. If they continue to play at that pace, we aren’t going to be using it as a fourth line. There are going to be using up quite a bit of ice time if they play at this level.”
Reaves, a consistent fourth-liner, scored two goals in Thursday’s crucial matchup with the Flames. Cracknell, who has spent a lot of time in the American Hockey League with the Peoria Rivermen this season, scored two goals for the Blues in a game against Chicago earlier this month. Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock recently pointed to that game as being the turning point of the season. Porter, who recently signed a two-year, one-way contract with the Blues, was a possible candidate for assignment in late March, but the Blues were not willing to risk losing the forward to a waiver claim. Instead, the Blues traded Matt D’Agostini to clear a roster spot for T.J. Oshie, who was returning from a rib injury. That move, or lack thereof, speaks volumes about how important Porter is to the Blues.
But what makes the fourth line so good, is not a single player, but rather the line as a whole. This is why Hitchcock likes the fourth line so much. They play with a togetherness that Hitchcock has been preaching to the entire team this season. Only recently have the Blues been playing as a team. The fourth line has been doing it all along. That is why the Blues have an advantage heading into the playoffs.
The chemistry of the Blues’ fourth line is unmatchable. Each of the three players on the fourth line has vast experience playing with the other two in Peoria. In fact, the three players spent the better part of four years playing together and working towards the common goal of reaching the NHL. Now, all three are headed to the playoffs with a real chance to assist their team.
As long as the line continues to keep things simple, they will continue to succeed. At least, that is what Cracknell says.
“We try to use our size and our speed; that’s our job,” Cracknell said. “If we keep putting pucks on net, we will get rewarded. I think we have earned Hitchcock’s and the rest of the staff’s trust to put us out there when they need to. If we keep it as simple as possible, that is what is best for us.”
To expect the fourth line to be a difference-making line in the playoffs is a bit much. However, they will be one of the Blues’ strongest assets. There are few teams in the league that can roll four lines like the Blues can when they are on top of their game. The past few games, the Blues have been able to do just that, and they have looked like a completely different team.
“You could see it coming for a month now,” said Hitchcock. “Every time we play them together, they play well. They’ve got the right combination. They’ve got size, smarts, and I think the confidence gained from scoring a couple of goals now is really going to help them.”
In the month of April, Reaves, Cracknell, and Porter have combined for more goals (6) than Alex Steen, David Backes, and David Perron (5) have. Pretty amazing considering Steen, Backes, and Perron are considered three of the Blues’ most potent offensive producers.
It should really come as no surprise that the fourth line is playing so well. They’ve been there all season, their play masked by the inconsistency of the other Blues’ lines. Now that the Blues are having success, the line’s importance is at the forefront of the game. It will need to continue to be as the Blues head into the playoffs.