Dallas Stars Brett Ritchie, Curtis McKenzie, and Shawn Horcoff Developing Chemistry
The fourth line is playing inspired hockey lately, but how much should we read into it?
The Stars fourth line has been a revelation lately. Shawn Horcoff, Curtis McKenzie, and Brett Ritchie have been giving the Stars exactly what they need from the fourth line: timely scoring and a sensible game.
According to puckalytics.com the trio has a 61.5 percent Corsi percentage together. They haven't been scored on yet while generating two goals.
And this is where the catch comes in. They've skated together for only 46 minutes on the season. As well as they have played and as much positive as they have created it's still only 46 minutes. They're also getting incredibly sheltered minutes. They've taken 43 faceoffs in those 46 minutes and only six have been in their own end.
This isn't to say that the results aren't encouraging - they certainly are. But we need to be careful how much we read into the success. This stretch doesn't guarantee a return for Horcoff as an unrestricted free agent (though I imagine he would be welcome back at a discounted rate). It doesn't mean either of the rookies has cemented a 2016 roster spot either.
It does signal improvement though. Lindy Ruff has noted the development in McKenzie's game. The two kids keep attacking the net making plays and setting up offense making this game look much easier than it really is. Continued quality play down the stretch with the Stars playoff chances hanging on by a thread can do nothing but help their chances of making the 2016 team out of camp.
If they do continue to play well it could force the Stars to consider keeping the line together for next season. It seems unlikely that the Stars would want to bring a young center up from Austin to play between two second year players so there is a fit for a player like Horcoff should he want to continue playing in Dallas.
As the season winds down the development of this trio is one bright spot among many. This season has been rough but the two kids of the fourth line establishing themselves for 2016 season would be a nice development heading into the off season, but let's be careful. They haven't done it yet despite how well this line has played lately. It's encouraging but take it for what it's worth which is about a week and a half of really solid play for a group of players looking to prove something before the season ends.