Fourth Line Follies

One of the luxuries the Canucks were supposed to enjoy this season was having a fourth line who could actually play. A fourth line coach Alain Vigneault could trust and deploy in almost any situation. In fact, when comparing this version of the team to last year’s, most point to the depth of their lineup and improved quality of their bottom-six.

When you consider that the Canucks’ fourth line consisted of the likes of Tanner Glass, Victor Oreskovich and Alex Bolduc last year, it’s not much of a stretch to think that Manny Malhotra, Byron Bitz and Zack Kassian represents an improvement. It’s a big line, one that likes to hit and play with a bit of skill.

After one game however, you can say it also lacks some discipline.

Yes, the fourth line stood out in last night’s 4-2 Game 1 loss to the Los Angeles Kings. Unfortunately, they stood out for all the wrong reasons.

During a forgettable second period, Zack Kassian took an ill-advised charging penalty and Byron Bitz received a boarding major and game misconduct for this:

Both were a part of the Canucks’ penalty parade in the first 40 minutes of the game, in which the team was shorthanded for more than 30% of the time (12:36) and gave the Kings 8 powerplay opportunities. As a result, the Kings scored 2 powerplay goals, including 1 during Bitz’s major penalty.

Further, Bitz could face supplemental discipline for his hit on Kyle Clifford. True, it was a fast play and Clifford turned his back to him. Nor do I think there was any malicious intent on Bitz’s part. That said, it was also a dangerous hit on a vulnerable player. Almost the same hit we chastised Clifford for when he hit Chris Tanev from behind last year.

By the end of the game, Kassian had logged 5:36 minutes of ice-time in 10 shifts and Bitz’s night was done after 4 shifts and 2:51 minutes of ice-time – these are lower ice-times than Glass, Oreskovich and Bolduc averaged last year.

Maybe both were excited, maybe both were nervous. After all, for Kassian, it was his first career NHL playoff game, and for Bitz, it was his first since he last suited in the playoffs for Boston in 2009.

No one expects the fourth line to be difference makers. At the same time however, they need to be dependable in the limited minutes they play. They can’t put the team shorthanded as much as they did last night. Simply put, they need to be better and they need to play smarter.

J.J. Guerrero

Founder and Executive Editor of Canucks Hockey Blog. Proud Canadian, hardcore Canucks fan. I would like nothing more than watching the Canucks win the Stanley Cup. Against the Leafs.

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