Monday, July 11, 2011

Does Boyle Line Remain Rangers Third Line This Season or Move Back Down?

Along with who will play on the other wing with Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards one of the most interesting lineup questions for the New York Rangers this fall might be the role of Brian Boyle and his line.  Last season he and Brandon Prust started together on the fourth line with a rotation of players to be the third member of the line.  Quickly, in part due to injury and lineup juggling, Boyle, Prust and Ruslan Fedotenko became the team’s third line and it remained that way for the rest of the season.  The question that lingers now is whether with the signing of Brad Richards whether Boyle is now relegated back to being the fourth line center again behind Richards, Anisimov and Stepan or if Boyle will once again play a third line role and attempt to prove his offensive production last season was no fluke.

The combination of Boyle, Prust and Fedotenko was a large reason the Rangers were able to overcome the massive number of injuries last season and still make the playoffs.  The line epitomizes the system that coach John Tortorella wants the Rangers to play in how they outwork the opposition, are good on the forecheck and play defensively responsible hockey.  The issue is not what this line can do with their minutes, but if the Rangers, at their best, are better with this as their fourth line instead of as a third line.  Last season they were phenomenal in the first half of the year in adapting to their increased roles and massively increased ice time, but Boyle and Prust especially seemed to fade in the second half from the extra work and responsibility.  Their work on the penalty kill was still excellent, but their impact offensively was significantly lower in the second half and the number of games where they looked worn out increased drastically.

This likely wont be decided until training camp when the answer to what happens on the first line wing develops as that is the domino that can change the look of the rest of the lineup.  If Stepan is moved up there then it leaves open the space for Boyle and company to be the third line again with Tortorella deciding on who will fill out the fourth line spots.  If not, then Stepan is likely going to spot in the lineup on that third line and push Boyle’s group down to the fourth line where they will see a reduced role in certain aspects of the game, but it could leave them fresher throughout the year than they were after the massive increase in ice time last season.