Tyler Motte and Rangers' fourth line making a difference
RALEIGH, N.C. — In the four games preceding Thursday’s visit to the Carolina Hurricanes, Artemi Panarin had four goals for the Rangers.
Tyler Motte had three.
Three goals in four games is the kind of production one might expect from Panarin or Mika Zibanejad or Chris Kreider or any of the forwards on one of the Rangers’ top three lines. It’s not something that is expected from a fourth-line player. But as deep as the Blueshirts are these days, even their fourth-liners can get hot.
“I’m trying to play with confidence, trying to create a little bit of momentum,’’ Motte said after the Rangers’ morning skate Thursday. “I’m trying to be able to chip in offensively, continue to play the style of game we want to play, get on the forechecks, play with speed.”
Motte was a useful forechecker and penalty-killer for the Rangers after he was acquired from the Vancouver Canucks at last season’s trade deadline. He scored two goals in the playoffs, including one against Carolina in Game 6 of their second-round series.
The Rangers couldn’t afford to keep Motte after last season, so he signed a one-year contract with Ottawa. The Rangers were fortunate to be able to trade for him again this season.
His three goals in 13 games in his second tour of duty with the Rangers are as many as Patrick Kane has had in the 10 games he’s played since joining the Blueshirts following his acquisition from Chicago. And it is an indicator of how much of a factor the new-look fourth line can be for the Rangers the rest of the season and playoffs.
The fourth line of Motte, Barclay Goodrow and Jimmy Vesey had five goals and five assists in seven games together after Motte returned from missing two games in early March. One of those goals was scored by Vesey into an empty net against Washington on March 14 after coach Gerard Gallant put the fourth line on the ice in a five-on-six situation as the Rangers tried to protect a one-goal lead.
“We’ve got a fourth line that does a really good job [and] they have an important role in our team and they’re going to get some of that ice time the last two minutes, for sure, of hockey games,’’ Gallant said recently. “And whoever I feel real comfortable with that night, that’s who’s going to go out there.”
Gallant clearly feels comfortable with the fourth line.
Goodrow and Vesey spent most of the season moving around to wherever they were needed within the top three lines before Kane and Vladimir Tarasenko were acquired in separate deals before the NHL trade deadline.
Their acquisitions forced Goodrow and Vesey onto the fourth line, and, with Motte, they’ve formed a line that can check other team’s top lines in situations and be a threat to score.
The trio has some grittiness to it as well. Goodrow’s five fights on the season is tied for the team lead with Jacob Trouba. And the 5-10, 192-pound Motte last week got into an on-ice argument with 6-4, 220-pound Washington tough guy Tom Wilson.
“I don’t know if there’s really anything to it,’’ Motte said with a chuckle when asked about his confrontation with Wilson. “I think it was one of those things that happened. I think he thought I hit him at one point. I don’t even know if it was me or not. So after the whistle, we kind of just came together — I don’t know, to have a few words . . . It happens. I mean, everybody’s emotions are high this time of year.’’