After scoring three of the Vancouver Canucks’ four goals on this current road trip, the fourth line is beginning to find chemistry with each other.
The chemistry is coming from a trio who is going out and working hard on every shift. A trio that knows what they need to do to be successful and are gaining the trust of their head coach with every passing shift.
Head coach Bruce Boudreau wants his players to be aggressive but also smart. Over the past three games, Boudreau has found the balance that he desires on his fourth line with the trio of Tyler Motte, Juho Lammikko, and Matthew Highmore.
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The trio has only played three games together as a line and has a total of 31 minutes together as a line. The impressive stat is that in those 31 minutes, they have generated 20 shots on net while only allowing nine. That’s good enough for a 69% control of the shot share.
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The nice play from the fourth line is much improved now because of the addition of Highmore and Motte. Before Motte and Highmore returned to the lineup, Alex Chiasson was a consistent winger for Lammikko on the fourth line. Chiasson may have some offensive smarts that work on the power play but his weaknesses at five-on-five consistently showed in the defensive zone. When Chiasson was on the fourth line with Lammikko, the line was outshot 51-41 and their control of expected goals was under 40%.
It has been brilliant to see what a combination of defensive smarts, high-energy and pace can do for a fourth line. Boudreau talked about what he likes about that fourth line after Thursday’s Lightning game.
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“They skate,” said Boudreau. “Motte and Highmore are energy guys and they get in your face and they create opportunities with their skating. Lammikko is learning the game and I think he’s doing a great job at it. He’s been strong in the middle but the other two guys create an awful lot of energy and turn pucks over in the other zone. The best way to play good defence is to be in the other team’s zone playing offence and I think over the last two games they have done a really good job with that.”
Highmore also spoke after the game and spoke about the play that his line is trying to accomplish on a nightly basis.
“I think we’re just reading and reacting off each other,” said Highmore. “[We’re just] trying to play well defensively and working hard, trying to stay above guys in the offensive zone trying to turn pucks over. I just think it’s been a simple game but we’re working hard, really just reading and reacting.”
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On top of their success at even-strength, the current fourth line makes up half of the Canucks’ top six penalty-killing forwards under Boudreau. Lammikko and Motte have not been on the ice for a power play goal against in their time killing penalties for Boudreau.
Now, we’re aware that the fourth line isn’t going to be scoring every night but the overall feel with this group is that the fourth line just makes sense. We are seeing shorter shifts under Boudreau and this fourth line just has the feeling that they aren’t getting caught out in their own zone as much as a Travis Green or Chiasson fourth line.
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This current trio has been blocking shots, getting pucks in deep and controlling a mass amount of the shot share at five-on-five.
It’s also been great to see Lammikko find his way in the faceoff dot. He’s actually been the best centre when it comes to winning percentage on faceoffs since Boudreau has taken over.
Another critical stat is that the trio has only taken three penalties since Boudreau took over as the coach. In that time, they have also drawn two penalties to give the Canucks power plays.
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There’s an identity to this fourth line as an energy group that goes out and works hard on every shift. We have seen that with Motte over his time with the Canucks and now Highmore adds a lot of similar qualities. Lammikko isn’t going to shock anyone but for what was sent the other way in a trade, he looks fine as a centre who has had to fill in for Brandon Sutter as he has been sidelined with long-haul COVID.
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It’s still early in this line’s existence but they are laying out an outline of how to play on a fourth line for Bruce Boudreau. Will Lockwood should be watching video on that line every morning so he knows what he will be getting himself into later on this season. This added offensive production coming from strong defensive play is quickly making Boudreau into a fan of the fourth line and we have seen their minutes increase over the road trip.
We will follow what this group can do moving forward but they are sure off to a hot start while bringing value to the bottom of the lineup.