a·cu·men [ak-yuh-muhn] noun: keen insight; shrewdness

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Tuesday, 24 January 2012

01/25/12 The Curious Case of the Third and Fourth Lines

The Oilers should be proud of their effort in the last two games, but once again the boxscore was all zeros for the third and fourth lines on Tuesday. For some reason, the bottom two lines simply cannot score. What's the deal?

When Eric Belanger was a member of the Minnesota Wild he was a 13 goal man. He lit the lamp 13 times in each of his three seasons there, and scored another two after being traded to Washington in 2010. The veteran center hasn't had less than 13 goals in a season since he had 9 with the Thrashers back in 2006-07, but that was in just 24 games (a 30 goal pace!). It was a good bet that he would be exactly what the Oilers needed for their third line, but this season he's got just one goal and ten measly points in 45 games.

At 57.7% Belanger's faceoff ability has been exactly as advertised, and he has averaged 2:37 of penalty kill time per game, which has helped to steady the once-abysmal PK. Amazingly, he's averaging 1:42 of powerplay time per game as well, and yet he's still stuck on just the one marker that came on a lucky wrap around bounce against Carolina on December 7th.

After a 15 goal, 34 point rookie season, Magnus Paajarvi has seen his scoring grind to a halt as well. It's been 35 games since he's found the back of the net, going all the way back to April 6th of last season. His four assists in 33 games this year has him on pace for just 8 points if he finishes the year in Edmonton.

Considering how much promise the third and fourth lines had coming into the season, it's amazing that the players who have played regularly in those slots have combined for just 24 goals 55 points. If you remove Ryan Jones from that equation, the others have a combined total of just 12 goals and 34 points.

So what's happening here?

Some of it is bad luck. Belanger had 13 goals on 127 shots last year for a very reasonable 10.2% shooting percentage. This year he's got one goal on 74 shots. Magnus Paajarvi hasn't scored on 61 shots this year, while he's averaging almost two shots per game. He's not attacking the net enough, but you'd think he would get lucky eventually.

One way or another a few of these numbers will even out. The goal totals from the bottom two lines are not representative of their quality. Players can't keep shooting and shooting and failing to score forever, can they?

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