Photo by Patrick Smith
The value of hits is a point of contention among hockey analysts. There is little doubt that having more hits than an opponent likely means that the other team had better possession. This may not be exclusive as some teams rely and game plan for being physical and others do not, but the assumption is usually correct. Some have relegated hits to the intangible realm, where there may be some value, but it is unquantifiable for now. Some believe hits to have great value to slow down, frustrate or actually affect the game of an opponent.
Let’s take a look at Game Two to see if there was any effect on Caps’ physicality.
In Game Two the Flyers had 19 shots in the first, 12 in the second and only 11 in the third. Shot attempts were not much different at 32, 24 and 25 respectively in all situations. In a game that the Capitals led for the entirety of the second and third periods, the Flyers were unable to ramp up their offensive output.
For the series, the Flyers have 30 first period shots, 16 in the second and only 15 in the third (51/43/36 for shot attempts). As offensive stats go, they do appear to be slowing down. Whether that is due to physicality or a tightening up of the defensive zone or even elsewhere can be argued either way, but the correct answer may be a bit of both.
Here is some video evidence as to why physicality may play some part.
These are a couple instances in the first period on Saturday of dump-ins where the Capitals came hard on the forecheck. In both examples the defenseman on the Flyers (Brandon Manning and Andrew MacDonald) gets back hard, moves the puck efficiently and takes a hit from a Caps player (TJ Oshie and Tom Wilson). These specific hits were not hard, but they continued throughout the game on dump-ins, and some later may have been more jarring.
Let’s fast forward to the third period.
In the first shift of the third Mark Streit does nothing to block Alex Ovechkin’s path to the puck. Three minutes later, neither Streit nor Jakub Voracek look too happy to try to go into the boards with Jason Chimera. Ten minutes into the third, Streit again takes a soft path to the puck and is bested by Daniel Winnik and Jay Beagle. Then, with six minutes left in the third period of a playoff game when his team is down by two goals, Shayne Gostisbehere moves out of the way of Tom Wilson to let him get the puck on the forecheck. I can’t tell you that earlier hits were definitely in the minds of those defenders, but the Caps were beating the Flyers to the puck on the forecheck an awful lot in that third period.
Occasionally we don’t even have to wait until the end of a game to see the effect of hits.
Brooks Orpik crushes Chris Vandevelde on Vandevelde’s forecheck. He then slams him into the boards a second time a few seconds later on another loose puck. On the third loose puck opportunity for Vandevelde, he either has too little stamina or too little will to go back into the corner with a hard-charging Jason Chimera. He glances at Chimera before he stops moving his feet, so my bet is on the lack of will. The Caps got the puck out, and Vandevelde sulked to the bench.
It can be hard to quantify the value of a single hit or even out-hitting an opponent. They are not seen on the scoresheet nor in statistics. But sometimes the effects can be seen on the ice, in little moments, and from time to time, when it matters most. More hits means nothing. The right hits at the right time can mean a lot.
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