Shots on goal before Daniel Cleary’s first period hit on Patrick Kane: (12-1, Blackhawks)
Shots on goal after Cleary’s first period hit on Kane: (38-24, Red Wings)
The beauty of hockey – as I’ve told literally hundreds of people before – is that it largely polices itself. In a game where all players on the field of play can be on both offense and defense at any given moment, the game is unique. Life football, it’s a physical endeavor, but like basketball, possession changes often – and with it the possibility of being crunched by an opposing player. Often times, it’s hit or be hit, and teams, knowing full well who will be targeted, i.e. hit, designate players to do the hitting, which in a beautiful and subtle way, reduces the number of times targeted teammates are hit.
And, fighting is even allowed. Sure, combatants are sent to the penalty box for five minutes, but it’s allowed. It, too, serves to police the game. Often, those players who target the opposition’s players are asked to answer for their actions, and being that the game polices itself, many oblige. It is, after all, essentially their unwritten duty to do so. For example, watch this video. It really is one of my favorites. The fight is so-so at best, but at the end of the video we see an example of the obligation to fight. After Keith Ballard takes Jack Skille’s life into his hands, Adam Burish comes calling. Burish doesn’t ask any questions, and Ballard doesn’t argue. Ballard knows he has to “pay the piper,” and he does so. He stands up with Burish, absorbs a few (mild) blows, and falls to the ground. The score, as they say, is settled, and life goes on.
But, on Tuesday night in Detroit, the ‘Hawks apparently chose neither route above, and instead left target Patrick Kane to become frustrated while being repeatedly knocked to the ice by aggressive ‘Wings. In the second period, he even took to defending himself again, high sticking fellow American Brian Rafalski in the head. Bottom line: for the game to police itself, a team has to have players willing to allow it to do so, and the ‘Hawks had none yesterday evening. It almost cost Patrick Kane the use of his right leg for three months.
Don’t get me wrong: this is not a call for an enforcer. In fact, it might be the opposite. After all, those who targeted Kane – Cleary, Brad Stuart, Andreas Lilja – won’t willingly answer for their actions; no one on Detroit will. (Good luck getting Tomas Holmstrom, Kris Draper, Kirk Maltby or Niklas Kronwall to drop the gloves.) It’s the perfect scenario for the ‘Wings: a group of headhunters who don’t have to answer to anyone for anything – sort of like the old wild, wild west.
And, that only leaves one plan of action for the ‘Hawks: target their best players to send a message – to protect the tenth leading scorer in the league.
Alas, Henrick Zetterberg remained upright all evening. Pavel Datsyuk never had to dust snow off his backside or pick his teeth off the ice. (In fact, he cross-checked Patrick Sharp in the head during the third.) And, how many times did Matt Walker, Ben Eager, James Wisniewski or Colin Fraser DEMAND to be answered to? Zero. And, it’s a shame. Getting beat 4-0 on foreign ice isn’t so bad. This is, after all, a very long season. But, to be absolutely dominated physically is a much more difficult pill to swallow.
Yesterday in this space, I insinuated that Adam Burish should remain out of the line-up in favor of Craig Adams, and, boy, was I wrong. Though Burish does not score, he’s always willing to do what others aren’t. Last night, he would have sent Datsyuk or Zetterberg to the ice with a big smile on his face; he would have done exactly what the evening called for and what no one else was apparently willing to do. So, let him do it tomorrow. Sit whomever; I’m not sure I care.
Of course, this ends the ‘Hawks nine-game win streak. Ty Conklin, who will get the call tomorrow afternoon for the ‘Wings as well, stood on his head, and repeatedly denied the ‘Hawk attempts to get back into the game. In the late Tuesday edition of Eight’s a Crowd, Cam Barker apparently reaggrevated his lower body injury; both Walker and Aaron Johnson played.
And, let’s hope Thursday looks a lot different than Tuesday did.