At a time when air tight playoff races should be grabbing all of the League’s headlines, some of the biggest stories over the last couple of weeks have involved outspoken coaches and their displeasure for their counterparts use of his fourth line. John Tortorella and Peter Laviolette, whose followings only grew with each fiery and witty comment on HBO’s 24/7 this past winter, each offered their take in recent weeks on when it was “OK” for a coach to play his fourth line.
On March 20th, a well documented opening face-off melee ensued when Pete DeBoer submitted his starting line up at MSG that included Devils tough guys Cam Janssen and Eric Boulton, who have combined for no goals and 1 assist in 96 games this season, and Tortorella countered with Mike Rupp, Brandon Prust, and moved Stu Bickel to forward for the opening draw to take on the Devils Ryan Carter. The Rangers coach was clearly not impressed with the “Scare Tactic” DeBoer opted to use to start the game in “his” building and the verbal jabs between the two continued post game and in the days that followed.
On Sunday, in what looked like a Keystone State playoff preview, Peter Laviolette took exception to Dan Bylsma’s use of his fourth line at the end of the game following an empty net goal that put the Flyers up 6-3. Laviolette was irate after the Pens bottom line was sent over the boards after a long layoff for mop up duty in a game that was at that point out of reach. With just over a minute to go, Penguins Forward Joe Vitale delivered a clean but devastating open ice hit to Flyers star Daniel Briere and the gloves were off. Just to reiterate, what started this all and the Flyers outcry was a hit by JOE VITALE, a 5’11 former Northeastern University standout with 51 PIM’s in 65 games this season, not exactly the equivalent of sending Racki out to square off against Dean Youngblood off the face-off after the title had been secured by the Mustangs.
So what have we learned? It is not OK to start a game with your fourth line? It is not OK to finish a game with your fourth line? Your fourth line will rarely if ever sniff special teams time. You certainly don’t send them out there when you are looking to maintain a lead or need a goal to tie a game up for any significant period of time. When are these guys supposed to get their 4-9 minutes a night? Neither the Rangers nor the Flyers are exactly the Red Wings when it comes to gentlemanly play. The Flyers employ Jody Shelley and Zac Rinaldo and the Rangers recently traded for John Scott, none of whom brings with them a reputation as a swift skater or Lady Byng like play. If these coaches have a problem with the way opposing fourth lines are used, figure out a way to counter it or propose a rule change at the next round of GM meetings where a player must have a certain number of points or fewer then a certain amount of PIM's/Game in order to play at a particular point in the game. Until then, I don’t see a problem with a coach playing a uniformed and rostered player whenever he sees fit.