Red Wings’ MVP: The Fourth Liners

Red Wings
(Photo Credit: Andy Martin Jr)

The role of the fourth liner in hockey generally is understood. These are energy guys who are not expected to contribute a lot on the scoreboard but are expected to shut down the opposing team’s best line with physical play, sometimes using agitators to get under the skin of superstars like Sidney Crosby or Jonathan Toews.

However, there have been multiple nights during the course of the season when the Red Wings’ fourth line has been their best line, even on the scoresheet.

That was especially apparent Tuesday night during the Red Wings’ 5-4 victory over the Florida Panthers. The typical fourth line of Drew Miller-Luke Glendening-Joakim Andersson was split up against Florida, but Glendening found success on a line with Riley Sheahan and Stephen Weiss. Glendening had two goals, and Drew Miller scored a shorthanded goal in the team’s first game back from the All-Star break to extend their winning streak to six games.

Glendening, Miller Contribute on Offense

Detroit’s typical fourth line features two of the best penalty killers in Miller and Glendening. For the better part of the season, these two of have been instrumental in helping the Red Wings hold one of the best penalty-kill units in the league.

On the PK last night, Miller did his best Gustav Nyquist impression to get Detroit’s second shorthanded goal of the season. Watch the poise and patience he has while he waits for Roberto Luongo to open his legs and slips it right between them to give the Red Wings a 1-0 lead.

Coach Mike Babcock summed up the strengths of the fourth liners nicely back in October. He told’s Ansar Khan:

“They check like crazy, they’re gritty. Glenny is a pain in the butt, done a real nice job. Andy (Joakim Andersson) can make plays, he’s a good passer, he’s smart and competes. Millsie is real smart and works hard. All three brought their game and that’s what we have to do.”

It all starts up the middle with Glendening. He struggled with faceoffs last year, but this season, he has won 55.4 percent of his faceoffs, which is 0.4 percent better than Pavel Datsyuk.

When you think about the fact that he will occasionally go up against the other team’s best line, that means he is taking faceoffs against some of the best centermen in the league.

Kukla’s Korner’s George Malik noticed Glendening’s success in the faceoff circle last night against Florida.

He finished 7 of 11 (64 percent) on the night, which was the best mark for any Red Wing who took a draw.

Not only was Glendening great on the draws, but he scored two fourth-line type goals. The first one was a result of cleaning up the garbage in front of the net, and the second one was a lucky bounce that landed on his stick, and he was able to roof it over the glove of Luongo.

It’s hard to be a fourth liner on most nights. They don’t get the praise, accolades or minutes the top lines do, but they are an instrumental part of any team’s success. Miller told the Detroit Free Press’ Helene St. James back in October:

“There’s nights when we’re the fourth line, and there’s nights he matches us up for more of a defensive line against one of their top lines, so we play more minutes.”

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Tom Mitsos is a Detroit Red Wings and Grand Rapids Griffins staff writer for The Hockey Writers. You can follow him on Twitter @tom_mitsos.