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  • I Will Run Through A Wall For This Fourth Line


    Most NHL teams have fan or cult favorite players; guys that you just enjoy watching and know that they will provide at least some entertainment value outside of the typical goalscorers or innate playmakers. The gritty dudes that you can relate a little bit to, instead of trying to think of how your life is reflected in those top-line guys with talent oozing out of every pore, you opt to see the undrafted, the college free agents, the mid-round picks that battled their way through development programs, and the post-hype prospects that have turned out a decent living playing an unforeseen role. It’s those guys that you are mostly drawn to — well at least I am.

    So when it is five games into the Minnesota Wild’s season and their fourth line constructed of rookie Brandon Duhaime, loveable speedy grinder Nico Sturm, and the towering goliath of an offensive play-driver in Nick Bjugstad; is their best and most consistent line, I’m going absolutely freakin’ nuts over here.

    Even as someone that has a preference for these player archetypes and will move on, rotating through a cast of characters throughout my fandom, I accept that they might not be able to actually be very good. I’ll take my lumps in this hyper-focused fixation on the grindy little greasy dudes; having them give up a bad goal, or just look like they can’t stickhandle through a wide open sheet of ice, but this trio of Wild forwards are actually really fucking good.

    Just peeking into the little world of the 30 or so even-strength minutes that they have been together this season, you get a wide image of body-bashing, forechecking, stick-twisting, and the overall sense of overwhelming pressure. A foray of beautifully-sculpted defensive efforts that will suffocate any opposing chances that they come into contact with — a suppressive hockey vacuum that does not care about their opponent’s status within the game or crowning achievements as the heralded best players. They will simply suck up every little scoring chance and spit it back out down the ice for their own gratitude.

    After Sunday’s clash with the Nashville Predators the trio representing a veracious account of Good Hockey, has still not been scored on and has unleashed a total of 31 shots on the opponent’s net. Comparatively, when they’re on the ice, they have only allowed 16 to get to the netminder they’re standing in front of. They have controlled 62.50 percent of shot attempts and 65.12 percent of expected goal share — they simply dominate their opponent and are within the league’s top-10 in both of those categories among lines that have played at least 30 minutes.

    Sturm, Duhaime, and Bjugstad simply unload shots towards the net and at a higher rate than simply anyone else. Again, among the lines that have played at least 30 minutes together, these guys are attempting almost 93 shot attempts per hour right now. The next best in the entire NHL is a mere 78 per hour, and that’s the Vegas Golden Knights trio of William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault, and Reilly Smith. The distance between the Wild’s fourth line and that second-place line (15 shot attempts per hour) is the same between them and the 20th-ranked line. It’s early, but that’s just offensive and possession dominance. They will attempt absolutely anything from anywhere, but tend to get right up in the goaltender’s face as they unleash their hellish fury. (They’re second in expected goal rate too, by the way.)

    This performance and simple act of hockey supremacy will not last forever. Maybe they’ll get split up (unlikely) or some stupid, dumb, and very dumb and stupid team will score a goal against them to finally break that sealed wall of defense. But for right now, I’m riding high on the feeling and confidence in my favorite team’s gritty dudes kicking the shit out of anyone that attempts to play against them.

    All stats via Evolving-Hockey.



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