They are labeled as the team’s fourth line, but what the Rangers last offensive trio has been able to accomplish since being put together has been far better than that of a fourth line. Their production has been something you would expect from a third line, maybe even a second, and has been a key piece to the puzzle of success for this hockey club.
Head coach John Tortorella, in all of his years behind the bench, has never once been a coach to that has used his fourth line all that often. By that I mean, he rather shorten the bench and rotate three lines in crucial situations and occasionally throw the fourth out there once or twice a period. That is, until he was confronted with the Shelley-Anisimov-Prust combination that has taken the coaching staff, and the fan base for that matter, by surprise.
Since Tortorella began rolling four lines, the team has been 7-1-1 and making a magical run at a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Not only has Torts changed to a four-line coach, but he has even went as far as starting the fourth trio in games, like last night’s against the Philadelphia Flyers for example. Each player on that line has impressed Tortorella in their own way, and I break that down for you below.
Starting with rookie center Artem Anisimov, his 12 goals and 15 assists are good for 10th on the team in scoring. I think it has been hard for the coaching staff to find a place for Artem in the lineup, but it seems like that is no longer a problem since he was placed between Prust and Shelley. When this change was first made, though, many of us questioned the move, saying Anisimov is far better a player than a fourth liner. However, his slick stick handling and hockey sense has proved to be successful when centering the last trio.
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Jody Shelley was acquired by the Rangers in a trade right before the Olympic break. To be honest, I did not have many expectations for the heavyweight fighter on this team, because I felt that it would be another Donald Brashear scenario where he would not have any benefit to the lineup. Boy was I ever wrong. This guy knows how to play the game of hockey, he knows what his coach wants, and he knows how to completely fill his role on this squad. Shelley is relentless on the forecheck, probably because of his size and strength. It is not easy to knock a guy 6-foot-3, 230 pounds off of the puck.
Brandon Prust, in my opinion, has been by far the best acquisition for the Blueshirts from the deadline. He is the key player in the trade with Calgary, not Olli Jokinen. In 25 games played with the Rangers this season, Prust has 4 goals and five assists for a total of 9 points. He has produced more with the Rangers in 25 games than he did with the Flames in 43 games prior to the trade. He brings energy, he can fight, he can hit, and he certainly has offensive ability and potential. Throughout this playoff push, Prust has been one of the top five most important players for the Rangers.
Sometimes you would call something like this a coincidence, or maybe even just pure luck. However, I do not feel either of those terms would be fitting considering how consistent the Rangers fourth line has been. They are not a fourth line anymore, they are an energy line, and I truly believe that is what they should be referred to as from this point on.
Both Jody Shelley and Brandon Prust are free agents at the season’s end. In fact, Prust is a restricted free agent, meaning the Blueshirts own his rights even beyond July 1st. Because of this, I think he is almost a shoe-in to be re-signed for the 2010-11 season. Bringing back Shelley is questionable, because you also have Brian Boyle that can play his position, but is currently out on injury. On the other hand, though, do you really want to break up a trio that has combined for six goals and 10 assists in nine games?