GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- Something between a Greek chorus and background noise, a hockey team's fourth line typically adds more dimension than flash. But all the normal roles don't apply in this lockout-abbreviated NHL season, as the Rangers demonstrated in Sunday night's 5-1 victory over Tampa Bay.
The Rangers' fourth line, composed of journeymen Jeff Halpern, Arron Asham and Darroll Powe, logged an usually active nine-plus minutes against Tampa Bay, produced a goal (by Asham), eight hits (Powe created the turnover that led to Asham's goal), and so impressed coach John Tortorella that he used Powe and Halpern on the penalty-killing unit.
"Yeah, that helped us," Tortorella said of the depth they afforded. "I was really comfortable with our fourth line.
"We're playing so many games, with very little practice time, if we can get eight, nine, 10 minutes out of our fourth line -- productive minutes -- that's a big part to us winning. If people can contribute and stay steady and we can use all our people through a game, it's going to help us come March and April."
Tuesday night's game in Boston is a reminder of how the season is proceeding at a breakneck pace, marking the quarter mark of the pared-down 48-game season for the Rangers (6-5-0). "It's huge when the fourth line can chip in every now and then; that's what a fourth line does," said Asham, who should know. "I've been doing it my whole career, so I'm very used to it."
Acquired during the offseason, Asham is now with his sixth NHL team. In 14 seasons, he has played for every Atlantic Division club. Sunday's goal was "nice," he said, since "it only happens a half-dozen times a year." (His NHL high was 15 for the Islanders in 2002-03.) But he is not paid to be Wayne Gretzky.
"A guy like Ash, what he does, a lot of players won't do it," Tortorella said. "Those types of guys who fight for their teammates and do all of the dirty things in the game . . . He's played on about a hundred teams and every team we talked to said he's a great guy."
The Rangers are Halpern's sixth team in 13 seasons. "We have some talented guys on our top lines that are logging heavy minutes," Halpern said, "so it's important, as a fourth line, to go out there and continue to create momentum. Especially because of the length of this season."
Powe, acquired eight days ago from Minnesota in the trade that sent Mike Rupp packing, has been around the NHL block, too. The Rangers are his third team in five years. But already Tortorella appreciates him.
"I look at it as players chipping in," Tortorella said. "I mean, the fourth line played 10 minutes [Sunday] night. They've added to us."
And they will be the last to complain about the extra playing time in the hurry-up schedule. "I think any player will tell you," Halpern said. "It's more fun to play a game than practice. I don't mind playing every other day, with a couple of back-to-backs in there, too. You practice for months doing nothing. The games are great."