Strictly speaking, no one has done a better job than the Rangers’ fourth line, whose job it is to protect leads if you don’t pay attention to the analysis behind the curtain.
Because the simple truth is that the unit around Nick Bonino with Barclay Goodrow and Jimmy Vesey on the flanks in the 46:22 phase of the five-on-five game at the start of the Garden game against the Hurricanes on Thursday was not on the Ice had been there to score a goal.
But whether that is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, is left to the jury as they sift through evidence that the Blueshirts’ fourth line, at 15.6 percent, ranks 70th and last among forward units with at least 40 in xGF there is :00 ice time and, according to MoneyPuck, he also ranks 70th and last in shot attempt percentage at 26.5 percent.
The Bonino Line was abandoned. Anaheim’s trio of Ross Johnston, Sam Carrick and Brett Leason is in second-to-last place in xGF with a comparatively whopping 25.7 percent. And Detroit’s lineage of Michael Rasmussen, JT Compher and Andrew Copp ranks second to last in attempt percentage at a relatively underwhelming 32.6 percent.
Still – no goals conceded.
And no goals for any of the Blueshirts’ fourth-liners. The two assists credited to Vesey are the only points awarded to the unit, which features a defensive zone. 92.59 percent acceptance rate according to NaturalStatTrick.
“I think we are a good defensive unit. We were pretty explicitly used in that role,” Vesey told the Post a few hours before the Blueshirts put their five-game winning streak at risk. “We defend hard. We block shots. I don’t think we’ve given up a goal when the three of us are on the ice together.
“The challenge for us going forward is that we start in the D-zone or our half of the neutral zone all the time. How are we going to operate offensively, which I think we need to do more of?” That’s the biggest challenge we face, but in terms of our formation, I think we were valuable to our team by converting penalties and defended, but we can’t spend that much time in the D-zone.”
In fact, Goodrow, Bonino and Vesey make up half of the club’s penalty kill forwards, along with Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider and Vincent Trocheck who handle the majority of the duties. The unit finished 17 of 18 power plays while winning the five-game road trip.
So there is also this value. Still, it’s not just Vesey — who was left out in favor of Tyler Pitlick in two of the first three games but has been in the lineup seven straight times — who would like to see the unit generate more time of possession and scoring opportunities in the O-zone . That would also reflect the opinion of head coach Peter Laviolette.
“The [D-zone] Beginnings make it a little more difficult, but that [doesn’t include] “The whole time you’re jumping over the boards spontaneously, maybe 55 or 60 percent of the changes, but that’s true, I see where I put them,” Laviolette said. “I think they are good and responsible defensive players.
“Do I think like everyone else that the fourth line can get into the offensive zone and generate more? Would I like that? I would, but I would also like to see that in all of our lines, not just this one.
“It’s a harder duty, it’s harder for [the fourth line] to get there,” said the coach. “If they get there, I would like to see them generate more, but I would like to see all of our lines and defensemen try to find a way to get more into the offensive zone.”
A year ago, Vesey earned a one-year contract for $750,000 through an impressive training camp tryout and then received a two-year extension in the first week of January at $800,000 per year through an excellent first three months promoting the prodigal No. 26 was regularly getting into the top 6 and top 9.
This year, however, Vesey wore street clothes for the opening game and again for the third game. But not since then.
“I didn’t interpret [the scratches] as a message. I thought I had a good camp and was in better physical shape than last year. “We do a time sprint on the ice and I was faster,” said the 30-year-old winger. “I think it was just a numbers thing.
“No one wants to sit out and not play, so it’s a little more urgent when you come back in. But if you look at my season last year, it started the same way. It took a while before I scored my first goal [in Game 11] and then it just snowed.
“Personally, I’m looking for a moment like this to build on, and that goes for our line as well,” Vesey said. “We’re still trying to shine, I say, but if we look ahead and the puck is down there, I think we’re very close to being big in those spots on offense as well.”