Eric Robinson, Sean Kuraly, and Alexandre Texier have been skating together on the Blue Jackets' fourth line for just five games, but they're already paying dividends.
Texier, who was demoted to the fourth line from the second line, seems to have rediscovered his game playing alongside the speedy Robinson and the dependable Kuraly. The line has been excellent in its five games together and has played a key role in the team's 4-1-0 record in the time since the line was assembled.
According to NaturalStatTrick, the line has played a total of 40:10 together at 5v5, and the results have been impressive. They've outshot their opponents 35-29 (54.69%), produced nine high-danger chances vs. seven against (56.25%), and outscored their opponents one-to-nothing (100%), and while starting the overwhelming majority of their shifts in a defensive posture. Of the 41 faceoffs the line has been on the ice for, only six of them have been in the offensive zone (14.6%).
To recap, the line has shut down, out-chanced, and out-scored their opponents, all while playing at a positional disadvantage. That's no small feat, even if the sample size isn't huge.
It may be overly simplistic, but it's possible the line has worked because of simply understanding expectations. Kuraly and Robinson are straight-ahead players who play a game built on boring - but sustainable - patterns. Texier has shown more creativity in his game, but as we've seen over the past few years, he's struggled to find his footing within that framework. Perhaps playing along two players who are pointedly uncreative will serve to help his game.
If that theory is true, though, we may still see flashes of brilliance. In the above video, Robinson makes an uncanny bank pass at the attacking blue line to pop out in front of the Colorado Avalanche net, as if he were playing billiards on an ice rink. Texier, who recognized the potential incoming pass, darted to open space before shooting against the grain to the far post. And in true fourth-line form, the play started with a solid defensive backcheck, which forced the Avalanche to dump the puck in deep, then turned into an offensive possession, and eventually, a goal.
Brad Larsen, too, deserves some credit for this line. One of the criticisms (that I believe was justified) of John Tortorella was his reluctance to let lines work through growing pains. Larsen has shown a more patient approach, which I think benefits the players in more ways than one. First, they're shown that one bad game isn't likely to result in drastic changes, which should allow for more confidence. Second, it allows for chemistry to theoretically be built, which should lead to better results down the road.
Who can say what the future holds for this team, much less this line. The Blue Jackets are one injury - or a tough stretch of games - away from shuffling lines. But this fourth line has found some success in a short amount of time, and there's no reason to expect it to discontinue.