CHICAGO -- Many Chicago Blackhawks players are aware of the perception they are a “soft” team, but they don’t buy it. And even if they are, it isn’t showing up in the standings.
After beating the New York Rangers 4-3 on Friday night despite getting outhit 40-20, Chicago can claim a season sweep against the most physical team in the NHL -- at least according to statistics.
“I’ve heard it for a couple years,” Patrick Sharp said Saturday after practice. “I heard it in 2010 also. It doesn’t bother me. We can play a number of different ways, we’ve beaten St. Louis this year and New York a couple times.”
The Blues imposed their physical will on the Hawks this past Tuesday, but the Hawks handled them fine twice before. So maybe all the talk that they can’t win a playoff series against a grittier team is just that -- talk.
“You have to beat everyone to win a Cup and you have to play different styles in series and sometimes you can think the matchup is not in your favor and you come out on top,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “That’s for the prognosticators to look at how that matches up. … With a competitive group you’ll find a way to get through it if you want to get through it. That’s basically how we’ll deal with it.”
And therein lies the key. The Hawks have enough talent to play different styles, they just have to want to do it. The Rangers lead the league in hits, the Hawks are 27th. The Hawks are 2-0 against them.
“It depends how you play the game,” defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson said. “I don’t think Detroit is a tough [physical] team but they are doing unbelievable year after year. You can play a great game without being extremely physical as long as you have good body position and good sticks and blocking shots.”
And sometimes those statistics are misleading or mistaken.
“When we engage physically and play with a little bit of grit we are at our best,” Sharp admitted. “Those stats, especially [hits], can be skewed a little bit. Different buildings have different guys counting the hits. I remember in Los Angeles one time I was credited with six hits. I don’t think I’ve ever had six hits in one game. I think our team can play different styles.”
The misleading part comes from the notion that a team that has the puck a lot isn’t going to be delivering as many hits as the team chasing it. But it’s not just about the hits. It’s about a style of play. Some nights a grittier style is called for more than others. It was the mark of the Stanley Cup winning team in 2010 -- which ranked 25th in the league in hits. They could play many different ways.
“We can do that too,” Hjalmarsson said. “It’s good to beat the best team in the league. It gives you confidence.”
And might shut some critics up along the way.
Look for Johnny Oduya to join the power play when the Hawks take the ice Sunday against the Los Angeles Kings. He contributed a goal and assist in Friday’s win, getting multiple shots through from the blue line.
“I think we’re passing up shots from the point,” Quenneville said of the move to Oduya. “We should be thinking more shots. That will be a good starting point for our power play.”
Hjalmarsson said he was feeling fine the day after playing his first game in seven and just second in his last 15. He says he’s fully recovered from a concussion but that doesn’t mean he’s back to form yet.
“Feeling great,” he said. “Really glad to be back with the team. The conditioning is not there quite yet. I really haven’t been in great shape since before the All-Star break.”
Game time on Sunday against the Kings is 7 p.m.