The Blackhawks 4th Line: From Grind to Glory

  

Introducing the new writing intern at The-Rink, Dan Newman, a senior at UW Madison, who breaks down the improvement in the Blackhawks fourth line in 2017-18.

 

I’m a pretty normal guy. I lace up my skates one at a time just like anybody else.

And if you’re anything like me following the 2017-18 Blackhawks team, you probably can’t help but share how  much fun it is to watch the fourth line of Lance Bouma, Tommy Wingels, and John Hayden, who have provided the Blackhawks with 11 minutes of effort, toughness, and surprisingly, scoring on a nightly basis.

The fourth line has been playing well. Really well. So well, in fact, that they are perhaps the best fourth line in the NHL. And I’m a millennial, so I’m going to try to prove it with lists.

Here are the top ten scorers among the 148 players averaging as many (11:00) or fewer minutes than the Hawks’ fourth liners:

1.John Hayden (10) CHI

2.Sonny Milano (10) CBJ

3.Joel Armia (10) WPG

4.Dom Moore (9) TOR

5.Tommy Wingels (8) CHI

6.Matt Martin (8) TOR

7.Lance Bouma (7) CHI

8.Jake Virtanen (7) VAN

9.Michael Haley (7) FLA

10.Brett Connolly (7) WSH

Chicago’s fourth line forwards have combined for 10 goals and 25 points through the first 30 games, led by Hayden’s list-leading 3 goals and 7 helpers. Hayden’s willingness to drive to the net and protect the puck through contact have generated scoring chances both 5-on-5 and shorthanded. The Hawks are also the only team to have all three fourth liners in the top ten. You may notice that as a theme going forward.

But they hit, too

Here are the top ten hitters among guys averaging as many or fewer minutes than the Hawks’ fourth liners:

1.Ryan Reaves (96) PIT

2.Zac Rinaldo (94) ARZ

3.Matt Martin (93) TOR

4.John Hayden (80) CHI

5.Lance Bouma (73) CHI

6.Tommy Wingels (72) CHI

7.Tom Kuhnhackl (72) PIT

8.Brett Ritchie (55) DAL

9.Michael Haley (52) FLA

10.Cody McLeod (49) COL

Are the Hawks the 80’s Pistons of the NHL? Probably not, but when was the last time you saw a Blackhawk in the same hitting company as Reaves, Rinaldo, and McLeod? The Blackhawks boast three of top ten hitters (avg under 11 mins/night) through the first third of the season. If they keep pace through the rest of the season Bouma, Wingels, and Hayden will throw well over 200 hits each. Staggering numbers, especially given the TOI and scoring totals these guys are putting up.

But, but . . . possession?

Now, you maybe thinking to yourself “hits mean you aren’t possessing the puck.” Swallow your milk before you read this next list. Here are the top ten players in 5v5 Corsi-For among players averaging as many as or fewer minutes than the Hawks’ fourth liners:

1.Lance “Cant skate, send him down, play the kids” Bouma (261) CHI

2.Marcus Kruger (258) CAR

3.Tomas Nosek (255) VGK

4.John Hayden (254) CHI

5.Jake Virtanen (241) VAN

6.Brett Ritchie (240) DAL

7.Joakim Nordstrom (231) CAR

8.Remi Elie (230) DAL

9.Tommy Wingels (226) CHI

10.Matt Martin (217) TOR

If you told me before the season that Bouma would lead players averaging less than 11 minutes in CF, I’d have told you I’ve got a lucrative investment opportunity in a bridge; but after 30 games, a Blackhawks tops the list of 5v5 Corsi-For numbers. There continues to be lots of talk among the Hawks fan base about Joel Quenneville’s tendency to play slow grinders over skill guys or kids in the bottom six; but it appears Q has finally been able to execute his vision with Bouma, Wingels, and Hayden.

Cheap, unglamorous, yet brutally effective

While they don’t have the quickest skates or the silkiest mitts, this fourth line plays heavy, gets pucks deep, and creates traffic in the crease. Most importantly, they get pucks on net and force opposing goalies to make saves. To put everything in perspective, the Hawks’ fourth line is averaging just under a shot per minute of ice time, meaning they generate about one shot every other shift. All three players take roughly 55% of their draws in the D zone, the most of any Hawk besides Artem Anisimov. Only 45% of Bouma-Wingels-Hayden’s shifts start in the offensive zone and at least 50% end in the offensive with a shot attempt.

Do the math on that one.

Now that we’ve seen the numbers, let’s take a look at what the eye test says. First, it says Quenneville has a fourth line that approaches the effectiveness of that of the 2015 Stanley Cup champion team. If you listen to pressers with the 2017-18 fourth liners, one thing is clear: they know their role in Q’s system and they have zero hesitation about executing it. These guys are not afraid to go into the corners or take a hit to make a play. Unless they are changing, this line breaks out with three forwards, moves through the neutral zone with three forwards and always, always, always forechecks with three forwards. Physicality, effort, and constant pressure forces teams to make mistakes and create turnovers, allowing a “low skill” line to create sustained offensive zone pressure.

The bottom line is that this ‘bottom line’ is impacting the decision making of opposing players. D men are forcing passes to avoid getting crunched along the boards. Opposing forwards are playing with their head on a swivel and are “Teravainen-ing” from 50/50 puck races because they’re now forced to choose between protecting their body and protecting the puck. Players know if they throw a dirty hit they might have 220 pounds of ivy-league schooling splitting their cheek in two. The Blackhawk fourth line has found a way to translate hits and heavy play into possession and quality offensive opportunities. These forced mistakes are almost certainly contributing to the success of fourth line, which has been surprisingly strong in terms of scoring production.

Ultimately, this fourth line makes the Hawks a deeper and more dangerous team.

Thanks for reading.

Center Ice Forums The Blackhawks 4th Line: From Grind to Glory

This topic contains 3 replies, has 4 voices, and was last updated by  Mister Ricochet 1 month, 3 weeks ago.

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  • #1539

    Daniel Newman
    RinkRat

    Introducing the new writing intern at The-Rink, Dan Newman, a senior at UW Madison, who breaks down the improvement in the Blackhawks fourth line in 2
    [To continue reading full post by danielnewman click: The Blackhawks 4th Line: From Grind to Glory]

    #1663

    kinigitt
    RinkRat

    Comments work now so I just wanted to say I really enjoyed this article. Keep em coming.

    #1696

    Puckhead17
    RinkRat

    Hey great article, I enjoyed it very much….keep the lists coming!

    I’ve also been enjoying the fourth line this season. I feel like they are one of the few constant positives the Hawks have going for them. The fourth line really flys, their level of effort makes me feel like it’s a playoff game. More often than not this line positively effects the momentum of the game for Chicago.

    #1790

    Nice piece here, Mr Newman. Will look for more of your work, well done. Lunch pail, never take a shift off, play the body, north-south, force heads to be up and quick decisions and chip in a goal here and there lines are great to watch especially in a Hawks sweater. ……. If they make the playoffs this line will be very important.

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