The Pittsburgh Penguins fourth line is one of hockey’s best defensive trios. Their fourth line that consists of Zach Aston-Reese, Teddy Blueger, and Brandon Tanev has been dominant defensively. They’ve constantly suppressed chances from the opposition, and the trio has lots of chemistry. The three players played the most minutes together out of any line combination the Penguins played this season. Although they don’t create much offence, they have a defensive impact that allows the Penguins stars to take over offensively.
The trio of players played over a third of their shifts against elite competition. They also started the majority of their shifts in the defensive zone. This deployment created for some very dull hockey when the three were on the ice. They were able to suppress shots against but couldn’t create much offensively. Aston-Reese, Blueger and Tanev have created a reliable fourth line for the Penguins and will be a huge part of their potential success in the return to play format.
Pittsburgh Penguins Fourth Line Analysis
With these charts, there are multiple conclusions to be made. All three players are spectacular defensively, and all have both defensive metrics in the top 10 percent of the league. Aston-Reese has some offensive impact, but Blueger and Tanev don’t at all. None of the forwards play on the power play at all. All three have a significant impact on the penalty kill, and Teddy Blueger might have been the best penalty killer in the league this year. Although none of the players were great in transition, Brandon Tanev was above average at exiting the zone with the puck. The trio of players was outstanding in suppressing quality chances and also was great in suppressing all shot attempts.
Not shown in this chart, the line had some of the best defensive numbers together as well. They had the fifth-best xga/60 out of any line that has played at least 100 minutes. All other lines at the top of this list played just over 100 minutes, while the Penguin’s line has played an enormous 426 minutes together. The three players are near the top 10 in total minutes played as a line, which is very impressive considering they only played fourth-line minutes. This just shows the incredible chemistry the trio has developed. This chemistry will continue into the qualifying round, where they play against the Montreal Canadiens.
Each player is in the top 10 percent in the overall defensive impact. They sacrifice their offensive production to stop other team’s top lines. This is a great strategy that head coach Mike Sullivan has deployed. It allows for stars such as Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jake Guentzel and Jason Zucker to score, and not have to worry about their defensive impact.
All three forwards are useful on the penalty kill as well. All three are in the top quarter of the league in their overall penalty killing impact. While Aston-Reese and Tanev are very good on the penalty kill, Blueger is amazing. His overall penalty killing impact is worse than just one percent of the entire NHL. He doesn’t let up any quality or quantity against him and does this at a very consistent rate as well. Blueger and Tanev made up Pittsburgh primary penalty killers, while Bryan Rust and Aston-Reese made up the second unit.
These stellar defensive forwards are what made the Penguins penalty kill top 10 in the league. The Penguins let up the fourth least high danger chances per 60, due to their remarkable defensive forwards. They also let up the third least scoring chances per 60, showing their commitment to limiting quality and quantity. This stellar penalty kill will match up well with the below-average power play of the Montreal Canadiens.
How will the Pittsburgh Penguins fourth line help them in the playoffs?
As the Penguins get deeper into the playoffs, they will face more dynamic offensive stars. Forwards like David Pastrnak, Nikita Kucherov, Alex Ovechkin and Auston Matthews are just a few examples of the many forwards the Penguins will have thrown at them throughout their potential run. This is a lot of star power, and the Penguins have the players to defend it. If the Penguins run into the Boston Bruins, they can play this fourth line against the Bruins offensive first line. This would allow the Penguins to play Malkin’s and Crosby’s lines against the Bruins’ depth players. This is a huge mismatch in favour of the Penguins and would allow Pittsburgh to take down a mighty team such as the Bruins.
This line would help the Penguins on the penalty kill as well, as the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Bruins both have top-five power plays. The combination of Blueger and Tanev would create a remarkable duo that could defend the dynamic power plays the Penguins might face in the playoffs. The Pittsburgh Penguins’ fourth line will be huge for the Penguins, as they look for their third Stanley Cup in the Mike Sullivan era.
The longevity of the trio
The Penguins have this line set for next season, as none of the three players will be free agents. Blueger and Aston-Reese will become RFAs after 2020-21, but neither will command too much money due to their low offensive outputs. Tanev is signed for 5 more years after this season, at $3.5 million. This is a steep price for a fourth-liner, but a price the Penguins can pay. Due to the remarkable work by general manager Jim Rutherford the Penguins have their stars locked into team-friendly deals for years to come. This allows the Penguins to pay a premium on depth players.
The Penguins will have some obstacles this offseason, and the flat cap doesn’t make it easier. Goalies Matt Murray and Tristan Jarry are both RFAs after this season. Justin Schultz is a UFA this fall, and John Marino will be getting a huge raise next offseason. Many depth forwards are up for new contracts this year, such as Evan Rodrigues, Jared McCann, Conor Sheary and Dominik Simon. While this seems very daunting for Jim Rutherford, he has the fourth line in place that will provide security to the Penguins’ defensive side of the game. Aston-Reese, Blueger and Tanev are all very useful forwards to the Penguins and will propel them far into the upcoming playoffs.