Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Hawks Fall Amidst Vicious Hit by Torres

Torres is a dirty goon who doesn't belong in the NHL
It's been an interesting playoffs for the NHL. This is the first year that they've enjoyed a national television audience for each of their playoff games, allowing them to showcase what, to me, is the best playoffs of any major sport. But that showcase has coincided with a stark rise, or perhaps just a reminder, of how dirty and vicious the game has become, with cheap shots, dirty hits, and suspensions on the rise. It was with this kind of atmosphere that the Hawks took on the Coyotes in Game 3 of their first round series tonight, and it only took about midway through the first period to see the worst example we've seen of the dirty side of the NHL.

Coyotes forward Raffi Torres, a vagabond cheap shot dirty player extraordinaire who has made a name for himself by deciding that his niche, and skill, will be head hunting and not playing the actual sport, took it upon himself to demonstrate for all those watching the NHL playoffs what is wrong with the game right now. About midway through the first period, Torres completely disregarded all the precedent the NHL is trying to set against such vicious and illegal hits by delivering his own against Marian Hossa.

Bollig getting mobbed after his retaliation against Torres
The hit, on so many levels, is illegal, vicious, wrong, and most importantly, dangerous. It has no place in the game. The worst part about it is that Torres didn't get penalized for the hit; only Brandon Bollig, who retaliated afterwards, received any penalty time. This is exactly the violence that the NHL is trying to remove from the game. Unlike the terrible, unfounded three game suspension handed down to Andrew Shaw for his "hit" on Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith, Torres very clearly charges, launches off his skates, and leads with his shoulder to hit Hossa in the head. This wasn't just trying to hit someone; it was trying to hurt someone. This malicious intent is utterly ridiculous. Torres is a repeat offender; anyone remember his hit on Brent Seabrook a year ago today that he didn't even receive a suspension for? Here, Hossa didn't even have the puck. He was looking the other direction. And Torres tears off, gains momentum, and levels an absolute cheap shot that is reminiscent of the punk in a fight who can't even play by the rules. Torres shouldn't just be suspended; he should seriously be considered for something more serious by the NHL. Want to send a message? Say goodbye to Torres for 20 games, 30 games, hell let's make it a season why we're at it. Who knows if it will happen though; if the downright embarrassing officiating from the refs in Game 3 was any indication, Torres will probably get a medal.

Joel Quenneville said it right to the NBC interviewer - it makes you sick. Torres is a punk. He exists merely to "put fear" into the other team. Except, I can't give any credit to a person who has to take cheap shots to intimidate. Maybe become a serious player, one who intimidates with skill, not someone who shouldn't even be able to call himself an athlete. A player like Torres doesn't deserve to play sports. After all is said and done, this is still a game. It's a fierce, physical, intense, and financially-rewarded game, but at the heart of all of these players are the moments they spent growing up, playing hockey on ponds and in small rinks for the love of the game. Moments like this don't reflect any of that nor do they represent the beauty of the game of hockey. If I was a coach, I would be furious. Want to go out and intentionally hurt people? Not on my team. Maybe wait for New Orleans to get a hockey team and try it out there. What a disgrace.

A shot off the post, yet another missed opportunity
If the NHL doesn't hand down a serious suspension, there's some serious nonsense going on. Giving three games to Shaw for a clearly incidental hit is bad enough, but if Torres gets away with a hit like this, then I don't even know what to think. The NHL claims that the official WHO WAS STANDING RIGHT BEHIND THE HIT didn't see anything but Hossa hitting the ice. Whatever. The fact remains that Torres made it his mission to head hunt and take out one of the best players on the Hawks. Not only did Torres put Hawks fans, and hockey fans everywhere, through the grotesque situation of watching Marian Hossa lay motionless on the ice, only to be carted off on a stretcher, but he took one of the best players away from the Hawks. There is no player on the Hawks that can make up for his absence. And considering that he was carted off, and went to the hospital, it's highly unlikely that he'll be back for Thursday's game, let alone the rest of the series. If you're a parent, how do you explain that to your kids? If you have young kids going into sports, how do you tell them to look up to professional players when there are goons running around with no purpose other than to inflict potentially serious injury? It's ridiculous, and Torres has no place in the game as a result.

As for the rest of the game, the Hawks took a 1-0 lead after the first period and seemed to be grabbing some momentum. But then, the same problems that have dogged the Hawks all season reared their heads again. I've said it a million times, but the Hawks cannot have success if they do not forecheck well, possess the puck in the offensive zone, and create consistent scoring chances. On the flip side of that, the Hawks do not have the type of defensemen to play physical in the defensive zone. They are quick, athletic, offensive-minded puck possession defensemen that are better off leading a rush than anything else. Not that there is anything wrong with that; the Hawks won a Stanley Cup with the same style. The thing is, it means you have to do certain little things better. This includes ensuring that you clear the puck quickly, and more than anything, clear traffic from in front of your own net. Because the Hawks supposed inability (or refusal) to block shots allows shots from the point to reach the net, it's a lot easier for the other team to bank rebounds if that traffic isn't cleared out.

On each of the Coyotes goals tonight, something like this happened. The worst of these the clincher in overtime, where Niklas Hjarmalsson demonstrated how to do everything wrong as a defenseman in one fell swoop. First, instead of clearing the puck to the open man behind the net, where it is more difficult for the defense to make a play, he chipped the puck back towards the left zone to an open Coyote. Not only that, he didn't clear his man out and allowed an open look at the net. After that, Corey Crawford, who had been having an excellent series, picked the most inopportune time to allow a soft goal and the game was over.

The offense was inconsistent. There were times where the Hawks were creating excellent chances, with great play by Viktor Stalberg, Patrick Kane, and Jonathan Toews. Michael Frolik, filling in for Andrew Shaw, finally scored a goal with a very nifty backhand off a rebound. But there were also times where the Hawks look disjointed, unable to get a chance, getting bottled up in the neutral zone or turning over the puck with bad forechecking. The Hawks are really going to need to step it up, with much more consistency needed from all the skill players, especially with the possibility of Hossa being out. The Hawks need to revert to their most successful form. Instead of trying to match up with Phoenix and play their game, which the Hawks simply CANNOT do, they should maximize the things they do well. Make a concerted effort to forecheck and put pucks on net. Get someone to get traffic in front of the net on nearly every possession. Take advantage of the skill on the team and play a high pace game that will play to the Hawks' advantage. Above all, do not fall into a grind it out style. It will only play to the Coyotes' strengths and lead to extended sequences in the Hawks' defensive zone.

Alas, however, the story tonight wasn't the Hawks game, even if it was a loss. The focus is on an illegal and dangerous hit launched by Torres on Hossa. Right now, let's just hope that Hossa is ok, but certainly, that can't be what the NHL was hoping to use to demonstrate how fun their game can be to watch. Especially it happening to a player on the NHL's most popular team. I hope we find out tomorrow what Torres' punishment will be, and I really hope that the NHL comes down hard. Regardless, the Hawks have to find a way to regroup, get back to basics, and maximize the strengths that make them a potentially dangerous team. Maybe they can use the hit to rally together, much like they did with the hit Torres gave to Seabrook in the first round of last year's playoffs, when the Hawks ripped off three straight wins afterwards. We'll find out Thursday if the Hawks can come out with intensity, pace, and skill, which they need to counteract the physical play of the Coyotes. Until then, let's hope there is some justice in this world for a dirty goon who plays more like a back alley brawler than a modern professional athlete.


Michael Braun said...

No way that was a hockey play. The guy left his skates to hurt him when he wasn't looking. Cheap shot defined.

Dave Johnsen said...

Yeah exactly. Which makes me sick to see the Phoenix announcers say that it was clean, and then all the Phoenix fans say the same. No one can objectively look at it and not decry it as a dirty, foul hit that has no place in sports, let alone hockey.