Fourth line plays important role for Blues

Fourth line plays important role for Blues

Credit: Getty Images

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 13: Vladimir Sobotka #17 of the St. Louis Blues and Jack Johnson #3 of the Los Angeles Kings battle for the puck at the Staples Center on January 13, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)


by Andrew Allsman / HockeyStL

Posted on January 26, 2013 at 7:12 PM

Updated Wednesday, Oct 30 at 8:27 AM

(HockeyStL) -- Being a fourth line player is perhaps the most unappreciated and undervalued role on an NHL roster. Rarely does a fourth line forward get praise for a team’s win, especially from the fans. The fourth line is usually tasked with doing the ‘dirty work’, which usually consists of striking fear in opponents, and giving the top two lines time to rest. However, the Blues’ fourth line is a key part of the team’s success, even if it sometimes goes unnoticed.

“It’s a valuable group for us,” said head coach Ken Hitchcock. “They forcheck, they create turnovers and they create a lot of momentum for us. (Our fourth line has given us) great minutes, and great effort. They have given us exactly what we need.”

The Blues’ fourth line has proven to be versatile, and interchangeable. Consistently though, the fourth line will consist of Ryan Reaves, Scott Nichol, and Vladimir Sobotka. Though none of the aforementioned average more than 15 minutes of ice time in a game, their play has pleased head coach Ken Hitchcock.

The Blues’ last line shows arguably the most persistence of any line on the team. Though not as skilled offensively as the top lines, the fourth line’s will and determination produces a lot of positives for the Blues.

Hitchcock likes the line because he feels he can use them in any situation, not just when his top players rest. He says it provides a much needed boost for the team.

“You’ve got to trust your fourth line,” said Hitchcock. “They are going to be playing against someone’s No. 2 or No. 3 line so you have to be able to trust them. When you come off of a penalty kill, or off of a power play, if you aren’t willing to put that line on the ice right away then you’re not going to get the minutes (of compete) that you need.”

“When you look at Scott Nichol, and Vladimir Sobotka, those guys play 13 minutes. When you can play four lines and trust four lines, you can play with energy and stamina.”

Hitchcock’s trust in the fourth line extends to whichever players occupy it on any given night. Throughout the season, it is expected that Jamie Langenbrunner, and Matt D’Agostini will spend some time on the fourth line, but to Hitchcock it simply doesn’t matter.

Hitchcock briefly discussed the fourth line after Friday’s practice, and said that he doesn’t really see it as a fourth line because of how skilled and effective the line can be on any given night.

“I don’t care who plays. I don’t count it as a fourth line,” admitted Hitchcock. “To me it is a third line. It’s a line that can play against anybody’s top players.”

The only fourth-line player that has a point in the young season is Vladimir Sobotka, so Hitchcock’s fondness of the line is evidence of how effective the bottom line can be in other areas of the game.

The Blues are expecting more consistency out of the line this season, as their top line players will need as much rest as they can get between shifts in a shortened season.

Look for the fourth line to be used after power plays, and when momentum is fading from the team. The abundance of depth at the forward position is considered a huge strong point for the Blues, and one Hitchcock will undoubtedly use to his advantage.

“We’ve got to use that depth (because of the amount of games being played in a short period of time),” said Hitchcock. “If they keep playing like this, it’s a huge addition for us.”