Ryder passed the puck just before Hossa could get to him. Two passes later, the Devils’ Adam Henrique had the puck on the left side and was skating toward the Blackhawks’ blue line. Hossa converged on Henrique on an angle and reached out his stick with his right arm and knocked Henrique’s stick. The puck slid free, Hossa kicked it against the boards, gained possession and began a rush in the other direction.
“Chelsea Dagger” didn’t boom over the United Center’s speakers and the sold-out crowd didn’t roar in celebration, but Hossa was feeling nearly as good inside about his takeaway as he would have if he scored.
“As I like to score goals, I like to steal the pucks,” Hossa explained after the game.
There’s no one better in the league at thieving pucks right now, either. Hossa leads the NHL with 47 takeaways. The Detroit Red Wings’ Pavel Datsyuk is second with 44 takeaways.
Over the last three seasons, Hossa and Datsyuk have separated themselves as the league’s best in the category. Datsyuk tied with the Blackhawks' Jonathan Toews for first with 56 takeaways last season. Hossa finished third with 48 takeaways despite playing in 40 games. During the 2010-11 season, Datsyuk finished third and Hossa was tied for fifth.
A lot of what has made Hossa so consistent in that area he showed in the previously-mentioned Devils takeaway. He was relentless. He read the play and used angles to his advantage. He utilized his quick hands and stick. He also had two other takeaways on the night and finished with a game-high three takeaways.
“Sometimes you try to read the game and try to be at the right spot and kind of read the pass before what’s going to happen,” Hossa said. “Also, I try to be a step ahead of the opponent so I can try to steal the puck. Sometimes you feel like you’re skating well and have the extra jump and steal the puck from behind. Those type of things I try to do.”
Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville rattled off everything he thought made Hossa an elite defender Monday.
“I think he’s got great instincts, got a good stick, anticipates well, forces and reads his options,” Quenneville said. “But I think he’s got a real good gauge of the ice surface and who has the puck and where the others guys are.”
Hossa’s game has also rubbed off on his teammates. Patrick Kane and Brandon Saad have both said they’ve taken tips from Hossa to use in their own defensive game. Saad ranks eighth in the league with 36 takeaways, and Kane is 13th with 32.
“I’ve learned from some of the best,” Kane said. “I got this guy right next to me, Hossa, who is I think is the best in the league at it, maybe him and at Datsyuk. Just the way he tracks back on the backcheck and lifts guys stick and then he can go the other way and make plays. It makes a difference.”