There were a lot of positives from New Jersey Devils’ win over the Canucks Saturday afternoon. Mackenzie Blackwood had one of his best games as a pro. Pavel Zacha continued his stretch of strong play. And of course, Jack Hughes got on the board with his first NHL goal. However, there were still things that should be figured out, and a major one, again, was behind the bench.
Kevin Rooney and John Hayden are fine players, serviceable fourth liners, but that’s exactly what they are: fourth liners. Hayden and Rooney both had Corsi ratings of 23% this past game at even strength, per Natural Stat Trick. A fourth line getting pinned in the defensive zone is expected to happen at times, especially against a team with offensive firepower like Vancouver.
We know the type of forwards Hynes prefers: defensively responsible, gritty, physical, “hard-working” players. To a certain extent, you need these type of player, and a shutdown line that you can put out against the opponent’s best forwards. Clearly, Hynes sees the Wood-Rooney-Hayden as this type. They were out in the waning stages of the game to protect the lead, and they did a fine job.
However, you already have a line like this in Blake Coleman– Travis Zajac– Wayne Simmonds that plays this role even better, while providing offensive opportunities. Hayden and Rooney both remain without a point, and haven’t really produced much offense at all. They both have each been on the ice for three high-danger chances this entire season. For reference, against Winnipeg on opening night, Jesper Bratt was on the ice for four high-danger chances for.
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It is clear that Gusev is going through some growing pains in the NHL. Still, he is tied for the team lead in goals while having the fifth lowest TOI/game. Quite frankly, despite struggling at points, he and Bratt provide far more offensive opportunities than the fourth line, and should be rewarded with more playing time than them.
This also once again brings up the question: why not play Jesper Boqvist? As previously mentioned, Rooney and Hayden each have been on the ice for three high-danger chances this season at even strength. Boqvist has the same amount while playing in just two games at a team low 11:08 TOI. Right now, he is a better option to play than anyone on the fourth line.
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Again, this is not meant to be a total knock on Hayden and Rooney. In a certain role, possibly as an energy line, they could be effective players. Unfortunately, Hynes simply has them playing over their heads and they have struggled as a result. They have not been able to create any offense, and have not been great defensively. Jesper Bratt and Nikita Gusev have not been playing as a result. They deserve better, and should be playing in a far more consistent role with Pavel Zacha.