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Posted at 10:38 AM ET, 11/15/2010

The importance of the Caps' fourth line

Even as the Capitals struggled in the second period against the Atlanta Thrashers on Sunday, Washington's fourth line stood out. It created offensive chances in a frame with few by doing what it does best --forechecking, cycling and making something out of seemingly nothing plays.

Coach Bruce Boudreau has always believed that a team that can roll four forward lines consistently holds an advantage over its opponents. The combination of Matt Hendricks, David Steckel and Matt Bradley has allowed the Capitals to do just that. Regardless of any particular good or bad stretch for the team as a whole, the fourth line continues to plug away, making the most of the ice time it gets -- even if on many occasions the effort doesn't wind up on the scoresheet.

Against the Thrashers on Sunday, they all played at least 14 minutes and did make their mark on the box score.

Hendricks tallied his third goal of the season in 14:48 of ice time, finished a plus-3 and had three hits; Steckel posted two points (1g, 1a) in 15:39, was a plus-3 and won a staggering 19 of 23 faceoffs; and Bradley chipped in an assist, two hits and was a plus-2 in 14:02. Not a bad night's work.

"They were a very positive influence for us tonight and we need that," Boudreau said. "When you have four lines and one isn't going, these guys can play a regular shift -- they're not just players you put out as fourth-line guys with a spot -- they can all play regular shifts. They did and they kept things going."

Although the precise combination of Capitals that Boudreau elects to use has varied from game to game this year, with the addition of tough-guy D.J. King on six occasions and, when healthy, Boyd Gordon has been in the mix as well.

But in the past three games that they've played together consistently, Hendricks, Steckel and Bradley appear to have grown comfortable with each other on the ice and of all the tinkering that's been done lately with the forward lines, they've still stuck together quite a bit. Their continued utility can only help, particularly against opponents who don't treat their fourth line as regular participants.

The team is off today, but colleague Gene Wang will have more on the Capitals' offensive strength on the blueline, as almost all of the defensemen -- not just Mike Green -- have found their way onto the scoresheet recently.

If you haven't already, check out the game recap of Washington's 6-4 win over the Thrashers and the post-game blog notes as well.

Puck Daddy's Greg Wyshynski takes a look at John Erskine and Eric Boulton's nomination for fight of the year. If somehow you managed to miss this fight yesterday, or just want to watch it again the video is below as well.

By  |  10:38 AM ET, 11/15/2010

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