Stave it off, 1-2-3, and now you can count to three.

One of the most impressive elements of the Canucks’ game one victory over the was their physical play. After finishing 20th in the NHL in hits in the regular season, averaging 21.85 hits/game, the Canucks came flying off the bench like they were The Hart Foundation, finishing the night with 47 hits. Alex Edler and Maxim Lapierre played the roles of “The Hitman” and “The Anvil” respectively, leading the way with 15 combined hits, many of the genus holy jumpin’. This was a little surprising: after all, Edler is coming off mid-season back surgery and Maxim Lapierre seemed to lack the advertised aggravation after being traded to Vancouver at the deadline. The Canucks’ generosity with their hits, their physical philanthropy if you will, received an enthusiastic response from the Rogers Arena crowd and no response from the Chicago Blackhawks, much to Joel Quenneville’s chagrin. But is this the start of a larger trend or just a one-game anomaly?

One year ago the Blackhawks’ frightening combination of speediness and hittiness was lethal. The poster boy for this in the playoffs was Dustin Byfuglien, the 6’5″ 265 lb monster of a man who could, horror of horrors, skate. Much was made of the eyesight-blocking capabilities of his rear end, but he was a physical force all over the ice, leading the postseason with an astonishing 99 hits in 22 games. This is yet another area where his absence leaves a gaping hole in the Blackhawks’ line-up. His combination of size, speed, and scoring touch is not easily replaced.

Of course, it wasn’t just Byfuglien that the Blackhawks lost. Last postseason, Andrew Ladd and Ben Eager provided 42 hits each, while Brent Sopel and Kris Versteeg dished out 23 and 25 respectively. Toss in the combined efforts of Adam Burish and John Madden with 23 and you have a total 254 of the Blackhawks’ 598 postseason hits that are now missing from the lineup. Those 7 players were ostensibly replaced by Michael Frolik, Viktor Stalberg, Chris Campoli, Ryan Johnson, Jake Dowell, Ben Smith, and Nick Leddy in game one for the Blackhawks. Both Stalberg and Dowell topped 100 hits this season, while Campoli came just short with 99; they combined for a grand total of 3 hits against the Canucks. Instead, Michael Frolik led the team with 6 hits. Not a very intimidating figure, that Frolik.

Surprisingly, the Blackhawks actually had more hits this season than in 2009-10. The Blackhawks tallied 1824 hits this year compared to 1555 last year. While it would seem that the departure of Byfuglien, Ladd, Eager, Sopel, Versteeg, Burish, and Madden would lead to a dropoff in total hits, it hasn’t been the case. That septet combined for 523 hits in 468 games, averaging 1.12 hits/game. Their “replacements,” Frolik, Stalberg, Campoli, Johnson, Dowell, Smith, and Leddy tallied 424 hits in 399 games, averaging 1.06 hits/game, with some of those hits recorded with other teams. Toss in John Scott’s 60 hits in 40 games from this season, however, and the average jumps up to 1.21 hits/game. John Scott might slot into the lineup tonight as a forward, which would bump up the hittiness quotient of the Blackhawks while simultaneously dropping the skilliness (Side note: the Blackhawks’ Skilleness took a dive when they traded Jack Skille to Florida). In any case, the Blackhawks overall hit totals for the regular season went up by 18.3%.

What the Blackhawks don’t seem to have, however, is a player like Byfuglien, who can elevate his physical play for the playoffs. The Byfuglienian One had 215 hits during the 2009-10 regular season, averaging 2.62 hits/game, already an impressive total that put him in the top 15 in hits in the league. He proceeded to bump his average up by almost 2 hits, registering 4.5 hits/game on his way to Conn Smythe consideration. Consider, then, the Canucks: both Alex Edler and Maxim Lapierre made statements in game one that they were stepping up their physical play. The Canucks’s hit-leader, Jannik Hansen, chipped in 5 hits of his own, more than twice his regular season average. Do the Blackhawks have the right players to respond? Brouwer is coming off shoulder surgery, Bickell is a below-average skater, Kopecky is injured, and Seabrook managed just 1 paltry hit on Thursday. Their regular season hit totals suggest they are capable, but their personnel might not be able to manage it.

The Blackhawks average hits/game jumped from 18.96 in the 2009-10 regular season to 27.18 in the postseason. They bumped their regular season average up to 22.24 hits/game this year and had only 21 hits in game one. Vancouver, meanwhile, averaged 21.84 hits/game this season and more than doubled that total in game one. If the dearth of star-powered scoring continues in this series, look for the physical play to be the story. If Vancouver has their way, it will be.

 

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6 comments

  1. beninvictoria
    April 15, 2011

    I’ve watched a lot of hockey and the one thing I’ve noticed is that there’s usually one team who plays their game and then there’s another team that tries to match it. In the past two seasons the Blackhawks have been the team who just plays their game and then Vancouver tried to match them. This season, with the increased player leadership and the decrease in Vigneault trying to match his lines to the other teams, it has allowed the Canucks to focus on playing their game and as is usually the case in playoff games the team who “played their game” has come out on top. so hopefully this trend continues. it makes sense that when a team is focused on matching the other team, they lose their focus, the team who plays their game doesn’t need to worry about what the other team is doing, they just keep bringing it and force the other team to adapt. what i’m trying to say is that it doesn’t matter if the Blackhawks try and play more physically, as long as their tapering their game to the Canucks, the Canucks will have the upper hand.
    hopefully.

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  2. Wisp
    April 16, 2011

    So the Canucks out hit the Blackhawks tonight out by 5.

    Not good enough. RELEASE THE TORRES!

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    • Erik
      April 16, 2011

      The Spanish/Canadian bulldog? Sounds good to me! I think I can hear the bones crunching already.

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    • Dave
      April 16, 2011

      “Cry Havoc and let slip the Torres of War!”

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  3. pinner
    April 16, 2011

    Hansen got ripped off on his hit count, by the way. I was pleasantly surprised to see the hit totals counted by the notoriously stingy Rogers Arena statisticians, but in anticipation of the typically low totals, I counted 6 legitimate Hansen hits in just 3 shifts. One shift he laid 3 nice ones, with solid contact, and 1 more that I didn’t count as the contact was glancing, even though the receiver definitely changed course from it. Anyway, just saying I think Hansen deserved more….

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  4. beninvictoria
    April 16, 2011

    i just want to point out that Hossa echoed exactly what i said in his post game comments. he talked about how the blackhawks have gotten away from playing “their game” and have tailored their game to how the canucks are playing. i was bound to get one right eventually

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