Sharks Improved Fourth Line Will Be Instrumental Down The Stretch

This past offseason Sharks General Manager Doug Wilson revamped his fourth line in an attempt to get younger, stronger, and more responsible on his lower lines. Scott Nichol and Jamal Mayers were let go after their contracts expired due to what was presumably an increase in age and lack of mobility, while midseason trade acquisition Ben Eager was also left unsigned following a playoff series against Vancouver that saw him take unnecessary penalties and manage to lose his cool.

Former Worcester Sharks centerman Andrew Desjardins was promoted to full time duties after a strong postseason with the big club, winger Andrew Murray was signed in the offseason, and Brad Winchester made good on his training camp tryout with the club to lock down the final spot on that previously vacant fourth line.

We've spent a lot of time talking about the Sharks fourth line this season and how much it's improved since last year, but it never hurts to see what's going on under the hood as we head into the All-Star Break.

San Jose Sharks Fourth Line 2011-2012

Player ES TOI
+/- ON60
Brad Winchester
0.86 1.38 45.5 -4.3 -0.34
Andrew Desjardins
0.35 1.41 46.7 -3.4 0.35
Andrew Murray
0.22 0.66 37.1 +0.3 0.44 1004

And the fourth line's numbers from last year:

San Jose Sharks Fourth Line 2010-2011

Player ES TOI
+/- ON60
Scott Nichol
0.55 0.95 60.4 -21.4 -0.27 1003
Jamal Mayers
0.30 1.39 45.2 -19.2 0.20 1014
Ben Eager
0.59 1.36 49.6 -12.6 0.25 1011

Some bullet points to consider:

  • Ben Eager's numbers come from his time in Atlanta (34 GP) and San Jose (34 GP), so keep that in mind when you're browsing through.
  • Color me surprised that the fourth line hasn't seen increased ice time at even strength in comparison to last year. Part of it is due to the fact that the third line has been more reliable than it was during the first half of 2010-2011 (before Pavelski fully transitioned into being the third line center), but McLellan has used his pluggers in a similar fashion.
  • Points and goal scoring is fairly similar to where they were last season, although last year's group had a little more balance and overall pop.

More following the jump.

  • Both units see approximately the same type of situations-- low quality of competition, limited defensive zone draws. They're the fourth line. That much is expected.
  • Scott Nichol would routinely take right handed defensive zone draws for the Sharks in order for the backhand win to be pushed into the corner instead of towards the front of the net. That role on the team certainly didn't do him any favors in terms of his CORSI numbers. Having said that...
  •'s fair to say that Desjardins and the fourth line as a whole have done a much better job in driving the play the right way in comparison to San Jose's fourth line last year. The biggest advantage they have over their 2010-2011 counterparts is that ability to drive the play in the right direction and not watch as their goaltender gets pummeled with shots relative to their teammates while they're on the ice.
  • To go with that idea even further, it should be mentioned that all fourth line players this season are in the black when it comes to raw CORSI (they direct more shots towards the net than opposing teams direct towards theirs) while all fourth line players last season were in the red.
  • Both units have hovered around the break even point in terms of plus/minus, but as their PDO numbers indicate, they've encountered less favorable save and shooting percentages when they've been on the ice in comparison to last year's unit.
  • As a reminder, a high PDO number is "bad" while a low PDO number is "good", although it's clearly much more nuanced than that. Our explanation of the PDO statistic can be found by clicking here./

Overall I think it's fair to say that the qualitative analysis of the fourth line works in harmony with the quantitative aspect of it. Their greatest strength is their ability to hold their own against opposing team's fourth lines, something that the Sharks and Head Coach Todd McLellan had some difficulty saying all throughout last season.

Going forward I think it will be important for the fourth line to see more ice time than they are currently-- with a road heavy schedule in February that will see the Sharks take a 9 game trip east of the Mississippi, and a brutal 17 game schedule in March right before the postseason, utilizing that fourth line as much as possible is essential towards keeping your money makers fresh.

The good news is that the fourth line has held their own this season and developed into a unit Sharks Head Coach Todd McLellan can trust.