Saturday, January 15, 2011

Is Fedotenko-Boyle-Prust Rangers Most Important Line?

Lou Capozzola/Getty Images
When a team is going to have a surprising season there have to be unexpected players that rise within a year to make that possible.  In the case of the New York Rangers they have three players who are doing that on the same line.  The decimation of the Rangers forwards this season via injury is no secret, but what has been underreported is just how good the line of Ruslan  Ruslan Fedotenko, Brian Boyle, and Brandon Prust have been as a unit.  On many nights this trio which consists of a free-agent tryout, bubble player to make the roster and an enforcer, or at least those were the thoughts heading into camp, has become the Rangers most consistent line over the course of the season.  Dare I say this trio has been the Rangers most important this year? Even more have they become the best checking line in the NHL?
This trio has become the most trusted group of forwards for Rangers coach John Tortorella as he has made this “checking line” his version of a shutdown line routinely matching them up against the best offensive line of the opposing team.  In a five man unit with Marc Staal and Dan Girardi they shut down the Sedin line the other night, but do not take that as a one-off event.  This line has been doing that consistently all season against the likes of Crosby, Ovechkin, Stamkos and the other top lines/players in the league.
Initially the move to match this trio up against the best lines in the NHL was one that was born out of necessity while injuries forced the Rangers to mix and match their “scoring” lines, but it has been that success which has given Tortorella the proof he needed to continue to go with that formulation.  Each time coach Tortorella has tried moving players around he has attempted to leave this trio together.  There were times where Fedotenko was taken off the grouping, notably to try and get Gaborik going, but you could sense the pain he felt in breaking up his best unit.  He would quickly rectify that situation and this line has been unbreakable since.
Paul Bereswill/Getty Images
What has made this line one of the best checking lines in the league is that they are not limited to only defense.  The line has a combined 27 goals and 28 assists in the 45 games the Rangers have played this season.  The scoring side has been led by Brian Boyle who has 14 goals, which ranks him second on the team.  Beyond the statistics on the offensive side this line has been the epitome of the new Rangers style on offense as a forecheck, puck possession, grind it out type line.  Add that to their shutdown defense, penalty killing and you can understand why the Rangers have changed expectations so much over the course of the season. 
This line has had big examples of the sacrifices each has made for the team.  For Fedotenko it was staying out to block shots after hurting his hand.  With Prust it was playing the next game after nearly getting a stick in the eye along with fighting through a charleyhorse that would not let him straighten his leg after the game.  On Boyle it was him noticeably limping after blocking a for numerous shifts a few games back but continuing to battle.  Each guy on this line has shown on every shift this season the definition of this new identity the team on both ends of the ice and their sacrifice has not only made the team’s results better but forced others to do the same.  Pardon the pun but when you have a line that can produce 55 points, 328 hits, 100 blocked shots and play in all critical situations while maintaining a plus 21 for the combined cost of 2.325 million that is plenty of bang for your buck.  That is yet another symbol of the way things are changing in the culture of the New York Rangers.
There may certainly be more talented lines on the Rangers themselves or third lines/checking lines around the league, but there is not one that is more valuable to the success of this team or their team than that of Fedotenko, Boyle and Prust.  There is no telling where the Rangers would be right now if this line had never gotten together this season.