More hits can be good for Blackhawks’ health
BY MARK LAZERUS email@example.com February 15, 2013 8:50PM
Bryan Bickell plows over the Ducks’ Ryan Getzlaf on Tuesday, immediately sparking the Hawks. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times
The facts: 2:30, Ch. 5, 720-AM.
Updated: March 18, 2013 6:59AM
The Blackhawks are built on speed and talent, not grit and physicality. With Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp on the top two lines, and former 20-goal scorers such as Viktor Stalberg and Michael Frolik on the so-called checking lines, it’s little surprise — and little concern — that the Hawks rank last in the league in the admittedly squirrelly stat of hits.
The Hawks, in fact, have delivered 192 hits through the first 14 games of the season — less than half of the 390 the top-ranked Philadelphia Flyers had handed out.
From the 2005-06 season through last season, the conference finalists’ average standing in hits was 18th in the league, so the Hawks have no reason to start going out of their way to plaster opponents against the boards. But anyone who saw the way the Hawks responded — with two goals in 28 seconds — after Bryan Bickell laid out the Anaheim Ducks’ Ryan Getzlaf on Tuesday night can see the value in a well-timed hit.
‘‘It helps — it’s a huge part of the game,’’ Kane said. ‘‘Especially with guys like Bicks and [Brent] Seabrook, guys that can really lay the blow on the other team. Even a fight like [Jamal] Mayers had [against the Phoenix Coyotes’ Raffi Torres] the other night. You see that, and it kind of pumps everybody up, especially with a skill team. So I think it’s something we need more of out of everyone.’’
Toews’ surprising scrap with San Jose Sharks captain Joe Thornton on Friday night was another example, as the Hawks responded with a big penalty kill and a quick goal en route to a 4-1 victory.
“That gritty attitude is contagious,” goalie Ray Emery said. “We have a very skilled team and guys who can put the puck in the net, but when guys are willing to fight for it, it adds that other element.”
Bickell’s booming shoulder-to-shoulder hit sent Getzlaf flying — ‘‘I think I caught him off guard and it looked bigger than it was,’’ Bickell said — and instantly provoked the Ducks’ Brad Staubitz to pounce on him. Staubitz, who played with Bickell in 2004-05 with the Ontario Hockey League’s Ottawa 67s, drew an instigator penalty on top of his fighting minor and 10-minute misconduct. Seventeen seconds later, the Hawks tied the game at 1-1 on Nick Leddy’s power-play goal.
Twenty-eight seconds after that, Brandon Saad soared through the air and beat Viktor Fasth to make it 2-1 Hawks.
‘‘We have a ton of skill in this lineup, a lot of speed,’’ Bickell said. ‘‘My game is hitting. I was hitting all game. Fortunately, that one on Getzlaf, it was a big hit. It seemed like it got the team going, we got a power play, and we scored right after that, and a minute later we scored again. It shows in any sport, momentum helps.’’
Bickell leads the Hawks with 31 hits, nine more than Seabrook. Coach Joel Quenneville wants to see the 6-4, 233-pounder continue to throw his weight around to spark his teammates.
‘‘Bicks has had some good hits recently,’’ Quenneville said. ‘‘When he’s physical, it really complements his game because he plays at a high speed, he cruises around the ice, and he’s got some pace behind it. And he’s a big man, and he’s strong, as well. He has some forceful hits, and they can change the game, or the momentum of games. He’s got some assets offensively, as well. I think he’s more effective when he hits, and I think he really brings another element to our team that we’ll try to encourage.’’
While the Hawks will continue to be more worried about puck possession and precision passing than pasting opponents, they welcome the added dimension that more hard-nosed players such as Bickell, Jamal Mayers, Brandon Bollig and the soon-to-return Daniel Carcillo bring to their roster, even if it comes in smaller doses than some (well, all) other teams.
‘‘If you can get a big hit like that, it obviously pumps up the team,’’ Kane said. ‘‘And sometimes with a hit like that, you create more room for yourself out there, and more room for your linemates. It’s a big part of the game.’’
NOTES: Corey Crawford (upper-body injury) will not play Sunday against the Los Angeles Kings. Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said there was “no change” in Crawford’s condition. Ray Emery will get his second consecutive start.
◆ Daniel Carcillo (knee) is getting closer to returning but won’t play Sunday.