Since October, the New York Rangers have not had a set of four lines. Coach John Tortorella changes them by the period, sometimes even by the shift. It had been a long time since one line remained intact during the course of a game. Then again, no line really combination warranted being kept together for more than a game, until last night.
From start to finish in the Rangers 4-3 shootout triumph over the New Jersey Devils, the fourth line of Artem Anisimov, Brandon Prust, and Jody Shelley was the best in the game. They kept up a relentless forecheck, used their size to their advantage along the boards, showed toughness, and also chipped in a goal, when Anisimov roofed a shot over Martin Brodeur, for his 12th of the season.
Rangers fans had been waiting earnestly for Anisimov to finally show the offensive prowess that allowed him to score 81 points last season for the Hartford Wolfpack. After shifting him all over the place in the lineup, including a brief stint on the first line with Marian Gaborik, Tortorella may have discovered the key to his success.
Ironically, Anisimov benefits offensively by placing him on a line with no other offensive talents. When he played with Gaborik, it was Anisimov’s job to be the defensive presence on the line, and to worry about backchecking. But by placing him between a grinder like Prust, and an enforcer like Shelley, he is free to play the offensive game that he wants, because for as long as that line is on the ice, the offense must run through him.
The trio last night gave reason for Tortorella to keep them together for at least one more full game, so we can see that it was not just lightning in a bottle; that the Rangers perhaps now have a set fourth line. When Brian Boyle is healthy after suffering an injury, this line will make it all the more difficult for him to find his way back into the lineup, and may very well spell the end of Aaron Voros’ career with the Rangers.
Meanwhile, Jody Shelley is making the Rangers take a serious look at if they want to re-sign him for next season. For his first ten games with the Rangers, he did not do much of anything, but in these last two games, he has been fighting, and showing a decent skating ability. Come July, I would expect the Rangers to offer him a one year deal of $750,000.
As for Brandon Prust, he is a slightly better version of Aaron Voros, but because Voros is signed on for next season, Prust would be a goner unless they can somehow rid themselves of the contract. Prust is a better skater, a slightly better fighter, and has more offensive instinct.
Should the line of Anisimov, Prust, and Shelley play the rest of the way like they did last night, the Rangers are in for a treat. And I would also not mind seeing the trio back again for another season.