The Canucks’ 4-0 win against the Edmonton Oilers Friday night was an almost perfect game. A representative from each of the Canucks’ four lines scored a goal, the team was successful on the powerplay, they killed all the penalties against them (Henrik Sedin was in the box for all three), and Roberto Luongo emerged with a shutout. Defender Jason Garrison contributed with three assists and the second line of Chris Higgins, Ryan Kesler and Mike Santorelli continued to be a dominant force.
Then on Saturday night the Canucks’ delivered a 6-2 win over the Boston Bruins. It was another strong (and entertaining) game in which players from different lines and the defence all contributed to the scoresheet and Luongo stopped 38 of 40 shots in his second of back-to-back games. In the midst of all this however, was the fourth line, which had more ice time then they have had in ages.
The fourth line currently consists of Jeremy Welsh, Zac Dalpe and Dale Weise. Saturday’s game against the Boston Bruins was Welsh’s third game slotting in for Tom Sestito; Welsh was a healthy scratch for the end of November and the first few games of December. Friday and Saturday were the highest ice times Welsh has had (8:43 and 8:59) since November 9th against LA. They were also the highest ice times Dalpe has had all season besides November 9th. He played 9:13 and 9:53, while he normally plays between 2:30 to 6:24 a game. Weise usually plays around 10 minutes, and continued to do so on Friday and Saturday.
Under Tortorella, the fourth line has not always seen a lot of ice time as he tends to play and depend on his top lines, especially near the end of games if the score is tight. The Sedins for example have been playing more (and in a wider variety of situations) then they did under Alain Vigneault. However, Friday night against Edmonton was a different story, as the fourth line had more ice time and generated chances – Weise hit the post – and got some powerplay time in the third period. 13 seconds was all they needed on the powerplay for Weise to put the puck in the net.
Weise’s goal was his third of the season. After 25 games played he has the same amount of goals he had in 40 games last year, and already has more points than he has ever had in the NHL with nine.
“All four lines played great,” Luongo told The Vancouver Sun of the game against Edmonton. “Our fourth line did an amazing job protecting pucks down low and cycling and creating chances, same thing with our third line. And you know when we get good production from those lines we have a good chance to win.” Against the Boston Bruins, the fourth line, although they did not appear on the score sheet, continued to generate chances; they had triple the number of shots the top line of the Sedins and Jannik Hansen had.
The success and the increase in ice time that the Canucks’ fourth line had in this past weekend’s back-to-back games demonstrates the Canucks’ forward depth. Of course, more ice time for these players means more opportunities for them to become better players and contribute. They may or may not ever get promoted from the fourth line, but that does not mean that they cannot contribute. In the games in which the fourth line seems to rarely be on the ice that can be hard to believe, but in the games in which they play more, such as against Edmonton and Boston, their abilities, importance and role are very clear.