Early in the season one of the lone bright spots for the team was the play of the Gordon line. The 4th line that wasnt the 4th line was spectacular. The Oilers started tinkering with it for some reason and they lost a little of what made them effective, but Rob Klinkhammer has seemingly made that line whole again.
There’s no question that Klinkhammer’s addition to the club came at the expense of a significant piece in David Perron. Because of what was going the other way I certainly wasn’t excited about was coming back. The main asset was the 1st Round pick and the player coming back felt like a throw in. That still might be the case but I think Klinkhammer fixed a significant problem with the Gordon line.
THE WAY WE WERE
The season started with Hendricks, Gordon, and Joensuu as a trio. That line was fed to the pigs every night in the form of extremely tough zone starts.. Gordon, at one point, had the 2nd lowest percentage of OZ starts in the entire NHL. Hendricks had the 4th lowest. Joensuu was just behind them due to the occasional sub-out or what have you but he was still taking very caustic zone starts. In fact, Joensuu (due to the fact that he stopped playing in the NHL) remains 3rd in the NHL as of writing this for lowest percentage of OZ starts.
Effectively what Eakins had been doing was making sure that if there was a defensive zone faceoff to be taken against a line even remotely capable of scoring that Gordon, Hendricks, and Joensuu were out there for it. Sacrificing those 3 to the Zone Start gods and doing it against the toughest available competition every time made the going tough for those three but there’s no question it gave them a clearly defined role.
The Gordon Line, the Wagon Line, the <Air Quotes>Fourth Line</Air Quotes>, no matter what you call them they were the shutdown line of the Oilers. Their job was to take the nastiest assignments in the most difficult starting spots and not get scored on. And, for good measure, they needed to be physical too, of course. As far as forward lines go, Edmonton had 2 defined lines (the ones with the 2 NHL centers). There was the RNH line which was expected to provided primary scoring, and there was Gordon’s line which was to prevent scoring. The other two lines were completely undefined.
Then the Oilers decided to pull Joensuu from the lineup. Without ever hearing a satisfactory explanation of why the team soured on Joensuu we are left largely with speculation. My best guess is that he wasn’t playing physically enough for MacT and Eakins. This same complaint was leveled against Marincin and Uncle Jesse has been accused of it in the past.
This proved to be problematic for the role and function of that line. Pinizzotto was inserted on the Gordon line and immediately you can see Eakins had to make adjustments to the percentage of Zone Starts the line was getting. It was the same coach and 2/3 of the line was the same but while Joensuu averaged just 9.4% OZ Starts, Pinizzotto averaged 22.7%. That’s a low amount but still represents a massive swing in deployment and usage.
We can also see just in minutes per game that Eakins had trusted Joensuu for 10:37 per game, almost all at Even Strength. This lines up closely with Hendricks and Gordon 5v5. However, Pinizzotto as Joensuu’s replacement was trusted for only 7:55 per game. That line was out there as a complete unit almost 2:30 less per game than it had been at the beginning of the year.
First thing we have to acknowledge with Klinkhammer is that he has played under different coach than Joensuu did entirely and that Pinizotto did for the majority of his time with the club. Because he has played entirely under Nelson it probably isn’t fair to point at his OZ Starts and compare them to the way Eakins used Joensuu. So far in his 3 games Klink has had 33%, 22%, and 29% OZ Starts.
More importantly, since we’re dealing with a new coach who has his own ideas about player deployment, the last game against the Blackhawks showed us that Nelson was unafraid to hard-match the Gordon line (with Klinkhammer) to the Hossa/Toews/Saad line.
The “Fourth” line is back to getting the most difficult match-ups available and with Klinkhammer they are performing quite well so far. He added an assist off a turnover created by a hard forecheck and it seems we can count on him to add a significant level of grit to the line.
Against the Hawks he contributed 10 hits while simultaneously remaining almost even in Corsi and actually ahead in Fenwick. If someone racks up 10 hits in a game I’m going to assume they played in their own end the whole night and without the puck. That wasn’t the case for Klinkhammer.
Small sample size that it is, Gordon’s line has a 51.1% CF with Klinkhammer where it had been 44.4% CF without him.
As much as one wants to say that we should be very cautious with just 3 games worth of data, we really have more than that. Klinkhammer has spent a couple years in the NHL as a consistently positive possession player. On top of that, he spent half of the lockout shortened year with Boyd Gordon’s Coyotes team. During that time he spent it almost entirely on Gordon’s wing.
Klink’s salary this year is a very affordable 650k. The Oilers had been paying Joensuu 1M before loaning him overseas. There’s a very good possibility that a deal can be made with him that prevents him from hitting the open market in the summer.
I think there’s enough there to suggest that with Klinkhammer the shutdown line is whole again and very much likely better than it has ever been. He may have been the secondary piece in the Perron deal but there’s plenty to like about what he brings to line with a very important role on this team.