The Sharks have long expressed their desire to be a four-line team -- a squad that can roll out any forward combination and has success. As they've turned a corner over the last stretch of games, the forward depth is really starting to show. That is, in part, thanks to the recent surge from the fourth offensive line.
"Throughout a season, you can't be a successful team unless you have all four lines going at different points of the year," Logan Couture relayed to the media after the Sharks' 7-3 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday evening.
A game where the Sharks were down early in a two-goal hole and the fourth line started the come-from-behind dig out of it.
There's been an ever-revolving turnstile of fourth-line centers for the first few months of the Sharks' season – in part because of lineup changes due to injury, and in part, because that line simply hadn't found chemistry yet.
San Jose's forward assault opened up when Joe Thornton was moved to third-line center and found chemistry with Marcus Sorensen and Kevin Labanc. The move prompted some to question whether it made sense to number the lines at all. Nevertheless, it was difficult to throw away the idea of numbering the lines when that fourth combo still hadn't found its footing.
Until a few games back, when Sharks' bench boss Peter DeBoer moved winger Barclay Goodrow to the center position, placing Melker Karlsson and Lukas Radil on his wings. Ever since the move, the fourth line has been solidifying an identity. And the Sharks are better off because of it.
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"We want to come in every night and have an effect on the game," Goodrow told the media after Sunday's victory. "The fourth line's pivotal."
Both Goodrow and Karlsson found the back of the net during that game, with Radil setting up Karlsson for San Jose's first goal on the evening. Safe to say that line had an effect on the game – and a positive one at that.
"That's the kind of contributions we need from our fourth line," DeBoer said. "That type of momentum, whether it's a goal like it was tonight, but that kind of momentum. Momentum-type shifts."
That momentum potentially comes from the fourth line playing a heavier game than they have earlier in the season. The addition of Radil – a 28-year-old rookie with KHL experience -- is a good compliment to Goodrow, who DeBoer calls "a big, strong guy" who's "difficult to play against". Karlsson rounds out the group nicely with his persistence and dependability.
"Melker consistently gives me the same game," DeBoer added. "His production maybe isn't there all the time, but you know what you're getting from him every time he puts his uniform on."
Consistency and grit are the additives this Sharks team needs to continue being successful. With the halfway point of the season in sight and competition in the Pacific Division the tightest it's been all year, the team has to have the ability to roll out any line. If that line continues to play like it is right now, San Jose will be in good shape.
"It's been a couple games," DeBoer said of the fourth line's success, "and we want to keep building it."