The Vegas Golden Knights are the top seed in the Western Conference for the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs. The success of the team in the bubble so far can be attributed to many different factors, but there is one that seems to fly under the radar: their fourth-line. The combination of Ryan Reaves, Nicolas Roy and William Carrier has allowed Vegas to roll their lines without fear of losing production. The trio’s relentless pressure has been successful as they have pinned down their opponents while generating scoring chances.
Physicality and Aggression
The Knights’ fourth line came into the playoffs with a reputation of being physical. During the regular season, Reaves and Carrier had combined for 529 hits, with Reaves leading the league with 316. This “Meat Grinders” line, as dubbed by Reaves, finds success with their forecheck. Throughout the playoffs so far, this line has been used to trap teams in their own zone, thus tiring them out. This allows Vegas’ more skilled players to seize this opportunity and capitalize on the work that the fourth line created.
Their physicality and speed also allows head coach Peter DeBoer to put this line out against more skilled lines. By having confidence in the fourth-line, DeBoer is able to generate more favorable match-ups throughout the game. Even when they do not have the puck, they still implement the same style of play in the defensive zone. DeBoer has even put this line out in the final minutes of the game when their opponent has their goalie pulled because of their ability to swarm the puck and generate chaos.
Offensive Control and Scoring Ability
With their style of play and the physical nature of playoff hockey, the Vegas fourth line has been able to have success on the offensive side of the puck. The line has combined for nine points in four games. Currently, Roy leads the line with four points, but Carrier has been the goal scorer of the group with two. This line is able to generate scoring chances by throwing pucks at the net and crashing the crease for rebounds. This is a large reason why Reaves has been able to pick up three assists. By causing a scramble in front of the net, the strength of the players on this line are able to create space and jam the puck into the goal.
The trio has also generated an impressive Corsi For percentage (CF%). Corsi is an advanced stat that shows offensive zone possession during a game and is measured through shots for and against while a player is skating at even strength (from ‘Wilson: Don’t know Corsi? Here’s a handy-dandy primer to NHL advanced stats,’ Calgary Herald, 10/06/2014). Throughout the first four games, Reaves leads the Knights with a CF% of 65.5% with Carrier just behind him at 64.2%. This shows that the Knights’ fourth line is able to control the flow of the game when they are on the ice. As a comparison, the highest CF% for the Chicago Blackhawks fourth-line belongs to David Kampf at 48.9%. and the next highest fourth-line player in the Western Conference is Matt Calvert of the Colorado Avalanche at 60%.
Reaves, Roy, and Carrier have been a secret weapon of sorts for the Knights. Their ability to defend, apply pressure and generate scoring chances has helped Vegas tremendously through the playoffs. In addition to this, being able to start games and forecheck aggressively has also produced favorable matchups for their team. The trio has also outperformed their counterparts in the Western Conference both physically and statistically. If this line is able to continue their high level of play, they may be the main factor in Vegas’ quest for the Cup.