Nic Dowd hasn’t played since the second game of the season. In his two games, the Caps were bad and the fourth line was uneven. Since then, the team has had some encouraging efforts, but the fourth line, while improved, has still been underwhelming. While Dowd may not magically fix the line, his track record suggests his return will help.
The Caps were spoiled last season, as they saw 53.3 percent of shot attempts and 55.9 percent of expected goals when Dowd and Garnet Hathaway were on the ice together. It remains to be seen how the fourth line will do in a full season without Hathaway, but a fourth line without Hathaway and Dowd (and Protas) has proven to be, what’s the word…bad. They’ve been bad. They are playing like a line that needs Dowd to return.
Using Beck Malenstyn’s shifts as a proxy for the fourth line, here’s how the fourth line this season stacks up compared to last.
Through ten games, the fourth line’s play has been, in a word, unplayable. The nicest thing that can be said about it is that, after Saturday’s win against Columbus, the line has been decent or better in three of the last four games.
This is not to say that the fourth line is responsible for the Caps struggles. Rarely, if ever, is the fourth line the primary reason why a team is struggling. But it would help to have those 8-10 minutes per night be played at a level closer to last season’s fourth line. If the line can improve their play, perhaps they can even play a little bit more per game to lighten the load on the aging players in the top-nine.
Hopefully the team will be healthy soon enough so Dowd (and Protas) can help boost the line’s performance.
Headline photo: Alan Dobbins/RMNB
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