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Push Back On The Pushback

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Just a quick step into the actual numbers and how this narrative is like a zombie in it’s ability to never die...

NHL: Dallas Stars at Vancouver Canucks Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

When your team is 28th overall in hits, it is not a surprise when the local hockey pundits will point to the need for more “pushback” , like the local TSN1040 guys did this morning.

I get it, and even agree, to a degree. I love the hitting aspect of our game. It was what I was best at when it came to playing, a lifetime ago. I just want to point out what a little deeper dive into the numbers shows...

The current hit stats are right here, and it shows a few things. The Top Ten are ;

Kings - 2190 Flyers - 1949

Ducks - 2004 Oilers - 1925

Senators - 1997 Penguins - 1896

Coyotes - 1980 Leafs - 1815

Islanders - 1969 Jets - 1804

The first thing you notice is three of the Top Five are in the Pacific division. The Kings won a couple of Cups playing that style, but this year are going to miss the dance. The Ducks are a Cup contender of sorts, and the Senators ( Go Burr’! ) are looking to do some damage in the second season., but it takes to # 7 and the Oilers to find another playoff team ( Islanders have a shot... ), and the defending champs at # 8.

The Top Ten are rounded out by two “young teams”, one on the cusp of the playoffs, the other not getting to play past early April. But there is enough variance in the teams to certainly not be able to say “playing physical” is the path to the promised land. Although, with a past Cup winner, and the defending champ, you cannot dismiss that way of thinking entirely.

The Middle Ten starts with seven straight Eastern Conference team, but, again, there is a high variance in the relative success of those teams. The Sabres, Canadians, Lighting, Bruins, Capitals, Rangers and Panthers were followed by the Blues, Avalanche and Predators, and their totals went from 1783 to 1579.

A few of those teams have the rep of being a “heavy team”, but mainly, it is tough to quantify hitting. As readers of the game recaps will recall, I like to point out on occasion that hitting is not totally indicative of success. A team that is behind, or chasing a lot, is going to have more hits because they are trying to get the puck back.

Or perhaps not. If you are a “heavy team”, you are going to do what the Ducks did to the Canucks. Teams built around that style of game do not have all that many more folks than the Canucks with that willingness to hit, but they do have a team ethos or commitment to it.

The last ten, where the Canucks reside, starts with ;

Wings - 1534 Jackets - 1460

Devils - 1514 Sharks - 1457

Stars - 1490 Canucks - 1379

Hurricanes - 1482 Wild - 1212

Flames - 1464 Blackhawks - 1111

Something to note, when it comes to hitting. Speed defeats “heavy” play. The team that is at the bottom of the list, by a wide margin, is a past multiple Cup champion, and one of the best teams of the last ten years. Their division mate has been one of the best teams all year, and the Sharks, for instance, have had that rep of a “heavy” team while using speed as well.

It is fun to note that a darling of the “pundits” ( and, admittedly, having a better season than ours ) is the Flames, with 85 hits, or basically a hit a game more than the Canucks. One hit. Hell, that can be explained away with arena bias and the variance that allows some teams ( the Islanders’ stats guy has this rep, whomever counts the hits there has an itchy trigger finger ) to be more of a paper tiger than a real one.

That is not to say Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck don’t finish their checks. They do. Just reporting the long standing rumour. My point is, for all this talk of needing to have “pushback”, hitting and being tough is not a be all and end all.

Look at your home team and their stats here. As is often the case, defensemen lead the team, with Nikita Tryamkin ( 129 ), Luca Sbisa ( 120 ), and Alexander Edler ( 100 ) all breaking the century mark, and Brendan Gaunce ( 94, injured ), Alex Biega ( 86 ), Jayson Megna ( 83 ), Jack Skille ( 74, injured ) and Brandon Sutter ( 73 ) all in at averaging a hit a game.

Your push back is going to come defensively, in your own zone, from defensemen, and ( this is a generalization, players that hit hit anywhere, but it is a good rule of thumb ) the forwards are going to be the guys hitting in the offensive zone to get the puck from those defenders.

I checked the Ducks for comparison ( here ) and it is a question of degrees. Everyone hits on that team. The guy with the lowest number is around 40 hits. By comparison, a few guys on the Canucks that played in 60-76 games are in the teens, with Daniel Sedin at 19, Henrik Sedin at 14, and Loui Eriksson with 11 hits in 65 games.

So, yeah, the Wonder Twins don’t really play a physical game. And that is not Eriksson’s raison d’ etre either. But is that what this boils down to ? Have we moved that little since 2011, when that was the narrative that some used to convince themselves was a good reason to hate our team for the Bruins ?

Whatever. Love or hate the Twins, to boil down their game to how physical they are is pretty simplistic. Perhaps a more telling set of numbers there is Markus Granlund with 32 hits in 69 games. ( Honestly though, when you watch him play, one of his best aspects of his game is his willingness to go into the corners and get the puck ) and Derek Dorsett had 35 hits in only 14 games. Him and Eric Gudbranson ( 9th on the list, 66 hits in 30 games ) being gone from the lineup has more to do with this narrative than anything else.

So, yes. The Canucks could hit more. I imagine their numbers will be higher next year, as guys like Dorsett and perhaps Gudbranson will be back. Virtanen getting back into the lineup would add to that. I imagine speed and physical play is going to be a part of the shopping list as well.

My point is, do we have to flog a tired old narrative, simply because it is a tired old narrative TSN1040 ? This is such an old and tired one. I get it, they are near the bottom of the list. There are reasons for that, from injuries, to a constantly shifting lineup. But really, c’mon now. We have a 6-7, 260 pound guy on defense who has 129 hits in 60 games. Edler is almost a 2 a game hit guy.

The Canucks have guys that hit. ( Hell, look at Bo Horvat and Sven Baertschi in the 60’s. Do you think the Flames ever would have gotten that out of him ? ) They are tough enough when healthy, and while it is tough to judge now, when teams that are tuning up and getting ready for the war that the playoffs are meeting those that don’t have a chance. Look, in these last games, who finishes their checks every time. ( Brendan Gaunce, where art thou? ). Watch that, more than how many times they are judged to be hits. Hell, I’ve watched Tryamkin defend that net when people get in their pretty well, as has Sbisa, Edler, etc. Looking at the numbers above, there are literally teams at both ends of the spectrum that have had the ultimate success...

Let’s just say that, like a lot of things in our puck obsessed town, this might be a little overblown ?