The Stanley Cup Playoffs are all about fours. It takes four wins for a team to advance to the next round, four sets of four victories to clinch a championship, and contributions from four forward lines in order to accomplish either.
The Sharks are in position to win a fourth game on Wednesday, in Game 4 of their first-round series against the Anaheim Ducks, thanks in no small part to the efforts of the team’s fourth line. Marcus Sorensen, Eric Fehr, and Melker Karlsson played all of six-and-a-half minutes as a trio during the regular season, according to Natural Stat Trick, but they’ve comprised what’s arguably been San Jose’s most impactful line.
They’ve been on the ice together for two five-on-five goals, as many as the first and second lines. The fourth line did so in nearly 13 and seven-and-a-half fewer minutes of ice time than the top two lines, respectively, according to Corsica Hockey.
In just over 21 minutes with the fourth line on the ice this postseason, the Sharks have attempted 62.5 percent of the five-on-five shots, and attempted more shots (25) than with any other line. The fourth line has also generated one fewer five-on-five scoring chance (12) than the first and second lines, per Natural Stat Trick.
Sorensen, Fehr, and Karlsson are, to some degree, an unlikely trio. In addition to the lack of ice time with one another in the regular season, Sorensen and Fehr played 23 and 34 games in the AHL this season, respectively. Karlsson, meanwhile, spent at least 25 five-on-five minutes as a part of nine different line combinations, according to Corsica.
Back in February, we questioned whether or not Fehr was the right solution as the fourth line center when he was first acquired. If we weren’t disproven down the stretch, when the Sharks went 2-4-1 as he nursed a lower-body injury, we certainly have been this postseason.
Fehr’s possession numbers with Sorensen and Karlsson are the best he’s posted with the Sharks on a line that’s played at least 20 minutes. Karlsson’s improved on his regular season possession numbers, too, and is attempting shots (15.01 per hour) and drawing penalties (3.75 per hour) at higher rates than the regular season, according to Natural Stat Trick.
But Sorensen’s topped them all. No Shark has posted a higher corsi-for percentage (62.5 percent), and San Jose’s five-on-five shot rate with him on the ice (32.5 per hour) is higher than all but two players (Chris Tierney and Brent Burns), according to Corsica. He also leads the team in five-on-five goals (two), and points (three).
Now, there are some important caveats to note. 21 minutes over three playoff games makes for an extremely small sample size, as does 28-and-a-half across four if you include the regular season. The Sharks also aren’t going to continue to score on 28.57 percent of their five-on-five shots with them on the ice, which is just a tad on the high side.
Winning the shot-attempt and scoring-chance battles to the degree Karlsson, Fehr, and Sorensen have bodes well for the fourth line’s future performance, though, as well as San Jose’s playoff hopes. After all, in the postseason, four’s a magic number.