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The Expendables - Comparing the Devils' 4th Liners

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The personnel on the 4th line for the New Jersey Devils is starting to become a revolving door. Over the past week, a few interesting moves concentrating on the bottom of the forward line-up have been made by Lou Lamoriello and Pete DeBoer. Nick Palmieri was sent down to Albany and Bradley Mills was placed on waivers. These guys made it through training camp, yet only survived about a quarter of the regular season. Tim Sestito was called up and Eric Boulton who has been out with a hand injury after a knock out punch is set to return. Vladimir Zharkov was also called up a couple weeks back and then sent back down after only playing a few games.

It might not be an important issue to some since its the 4th line and they average around 6 minutes of ice time per game. Yet I feel it's a significant advantage in games if the Devils could manage to get a solid, semi-scoring, defensively stable line to help their top 9 and ultimately the entire team. I mean, wouldn't it be nice not to cringe every time the 4th line gets on the ice? Teams, media, and fans always discuss having 4 lines than can contribute. Right now, the Devils do not.

Also, if DeBoer does plan on double shifting his stars, wouldn't it be good for the personnel on the bottom line to compliment said stars. Are the players on their now going too? Right now the 4th line and the one extra are Sestito, Boulton, Rod Pelley and Cam Janssen. Do any of these players seem like they could handle playing with Ilya Kovalchuk or Zach Parise?

After the jump, I'm going to compare these players with stats from Behind the Net. I'm also going to compare them with Albany bound Palmieri and Miils (and Zharkov). Were these decisions based on play? Or is the 4th line becoming an open, in-season tryout for the second half of the season (or at least when a couple of centers get back)?

Here's the page from Behind the Net that I'll be using. All the numbers are at 5-on-5. Also note, guys like Boulton, Zharkov, and Sestito have played less than 5 games. Quickly, let's look at the main stat line:

# Pos Player GP G A P +/- PIM PP SH GW S S%
12 R Nick Palmieri 19 3 3 6 -5 12 0 0 0 35 8.6
11 C Brad Mills 21 0 1 1 -6 13 0 0 0 14 0
22 L Eric Boulton 4 0 0 0 -1 19 0 0 0 1 0
25 R Cam Janssen 19 0 0 0 -2 18 0 0 0 7 0
18 C Tim Sestito 3 0 0 0 -1 0 0 0 0 2 0
10 C Rod Pelley 7 0 0 0 0 7 0 0 0 3 0
18 R Vladimir Zharkov 4 0 0 0 -2 0 0 0 0 0 0

Do note that Nick Palmieri has been all over the place in terms of a line-up standpoint. He's played with Zach Parise from the other fellas in this table. I'm pretty sure all of his 6 points were when he was not on the 4th line. Mills' only point was a secondary assist (Palmieri got the other) on a David Clarkson breakaway goal against Toronto.

All in all, the 4th line hasn't scored a goal or generated one without any back line help. Another stat to look at is shots on goal. Palmieri is the only player who averages over a shot per game (1.84 / GP). Mills averages about 0.67 shots per game, as well as Sestito in his 3 games played. Overall, there aren't a lot of current Devils who are on the 4th line (Sestito, Boulton, Janssen, Pelley) who have taken shots - they combine average 1.71 shots per game. Zharkov his four games didn't even get a shot on goal. I still think Wild Thing needs his eyes check.

Looking at On-ice Corsi - Zharkov blows everyone out of the water. His Corsi On is 31.72. He has a history of bringing the puck up ice and generate attempts and even though he had a short stint - he helped the 4th line dramatically. It makes me wonder why he was sent down. Sestito, Pelley and Boulton are deep in the minus. Janssen is actually the best (save Zharkov) at -2.06. The guys who have been sent down aren't far behind (Mills: -6.09 and Palmieri: -7.39). I find it interesting that 3 of the top 4 guys of this list have been sent down. Why is this?

In his 4 games, Zharkov had a 100% offensive zone start, so that helps his Corsi a lot. Sestito (35.3%), Pelley (44.4%) and Boulton (50%) have had disadvantageous zone starts. Palmieri's was also below 50%. Mills and Janssen have seen safer starts in the offensive zone. Looking at the quality of competition (Corsi Rel QualComp), yet again 3 of the top 4 players are no longer on the roster.

Its obvious these players haven't scored and have trouble getting the puck in the offensive zone. If that's the case, odds are the puck is in the other end. How have they been preventing goals? In Zharkov's 4 games, he was on the ice for 2 goals against - which turns into a -6.34 (GF-GA)/60. Mills and Boulton aren't as bad at -2.72 and -2.81 respectively. Mills has been on the ice for 2 goals for and 8 against at 5-on-5. Palmieri stands at -1.58. From this stat - Janssen, Pelley, Sestito, and Boulton (your current bottom 4) have combined let up 4 goals and only scored 1. I guess this is the best defensive bottom 4 for the Devils so far? This may be way they are up and everyone else has been sent down.

What about shots against per 60? Zharkov is best at 19.0 SA/60. Janssen is actually next at 19.9. Boulton is worst at 32.6. Sestito's is also good (21.2). Pelley is close to 30 and Palmieri is at 27.5. In terms of shots for per 60, I'm not looking forward to Boulton's return. He's also the worst in this category at 13.6 SF/60. Janssen yet again impresses me at 25.6. Zharkov yet again leads with a crazy 41.2. Sestito and Pelley both share sub 16 SF/60.

What these stats tell me is that Lamoriello and DeBoer are more concerned with defense than offense for the 4th line, and rightfully so. None of these guys can put the puck in the net or drive play forward. But they have to play defense. Janssen's stats actually impress me. Sestito and Boulton do make me uncomfortable a bit. They have been on ice and let up a lot shots, but not that many goals. Treat your goalies well fellas.

With the way the Devils have been playing their 3rd periods, especially when they are leading - it's better to know that the current 4th line may be more defensively stable than it is now not having a Mills or Palmieri on it. It might be crazy to think these two aren't as good has Janssen, Boulton, Sestito, but right now they aren't. The current 4th line isn't going to be in the regular rotation during a close game. But in a game where the Devils have a two-goal lead in the last 20 minutes, it's possible this 4th line may see more minutes than 4th lines in the past this season.

This strategy does contradict the strategy of double shifting guys like Kovalchuk and Parise. They haven't generated good chances with the guys in the past and they most certainly won't with the crew they have now. So do you even bother double shifting them? These two already get enough time playing on the top line and on both special teams' units. Do you double shift both of them at the same time which means you're basically switching centers (Sestito and Henrique)? I think that's better in my opinion than have one star and two non-factors on offense.

The good news is this may not last very long - but it will for at least 2 weeks (that's 8 games). Travis Zajac will come back and most likely shift a top 9 forward down tot he 4th line. Who that will be is not going to be easy question. But in the meantime, the Devils need to find a comfort level with their 4th line.

So what do you think about the current 4th line? How do you think they will do? What do some of the numbers tell you that I haven't mentioned? Let us know. Thanks.