For an NHL team to go deep into the playoffs, it’s no secret they need a lot of depth. The expectation to roll four solid lines has become a crucial staple for teams around the league. During playoff time, role players are relied upon to step it up, especially if star players stop scoring, get injured or if they are shut down by the opposing team’s top line and defense pairing.
Chicago doesn’t win the Stanley Cup last season without guys like Marcus Kruger, Andrew Shaw and Andrew Desjardins. With the Montreal Canadiens, the fourth line of Torrey Mitchell, Brian Flynn and Devante Smith-Pelly has been promising so far for the Habs.
Introducing the Montreal Canadiens’ New Fourth Line
All three members of the fourth line all came over last March so they are still relatively new to the lineup. The separate acquisitions of Torrey Mitchell and Brian Flynn from Buffalo didn’t garner much attention. In comparison, Smith-Pelly was acquired at the expense of Jiri Sekac, a fellow young player with size and skill. Smith-Pelly did little to impress Habs fans as he was often invisible and looked a step behind the play. Mitchell and Flynn both brought speed and experience and the two broke out in the first game of the playoffs versus Ottawa.
Torrey Mitchell has basically been in beast mode this entire season. Such a huge upgrade on the 4th line.
— Conor McKenna (@mckennaconor) October 21, 2015
However, the line looks a lot better this year. They appear to be more comfortable playing the system and especially Smith-Pelly looks much improved. He came into camp in better shape and has looked faster as a result. His physical game has picked up again and he has adapted to head coach Michel Therrien’s system. Mitchell and Flynn are relied upon heavily as well especially Mitchell as he takes faceoffs on the right side in critical moments. Therrien has shown a lot of trust in the line so far to start the season as they consistently play a regular shift with duties on the penalty kill too.
Evolution of the Bottom Six
Fourth lines in the modern NHL are no longer made up of fighters and checkers. Players are expected to be able to skate and play a regular shift. Even just a few years ago, the Boston Bruins’ former fourth line of Shawn Thornton, Gregory Campbell and Daniel Paille was regarded as one of the best fourth lines in hockey. Fast forward to 2015 and none of those players are with the Bruins as the team decided they wanted to go in a different direction.
With the Habs looking to firmly establish themselves as a Stanley Cup contender, the fourth line’s importance will increase. Their speed and physicality will be needed to keep opponents on their heels as the team will be looking for any advantage they can get to win. So far, Montreal’s fourth line has shown a lot of potential to be a line the Habs can rely on game in and game out.