NEWARK – Not sure who is keeping track of the hits in New Jersey and Los Angeles for the Stanley Cup final, but whoever it is, he (or she) should be on some sort of retainer from the NHL Players’ Association and the agents for the players on both teams.
Because if you simply looked at the hit totals in the final, you’d think it was World War III out there. The hockey in the Stanley Cup final has been very good at times, less than that at others, but it has not been a terribly vitriolic or overly physical series to this point.
But don’t tell that to the people who keep track of the hits. According to the NHL’s official statistics, the two teams in this series have dished out a mind-boggling total of 309 hits in four games, for an average of 77.3 hits per game. The hits have been almost even according to the stats, with the Kings administering 155 (for an average of 38.8 per game) and the Devils 154 (for an average of 38.5 per game).
Is anyone actually seeing a style of hockey that would produce that many hits? We’re aware Danius Zubrus is a big and (sometimes) physical player, but did he actually have seven hits in Game 4?
And if you need any more evidence the hit totals are being wildly inflated, consider this. Last year’s final between the Boston Bruins and Vancouver Canucks was considered far more physical and hate-filled than this year’s final, by a wide margin. But over the course of seven games, the Bruins and Canucks combined for 69.7 hits per game, almost eight fewer than in this year’s final.
The problem lies in the fact that hits are such a subjective thing. When Robert Svehla played for the Florida Panthers, he led the league in hits every year, simply because he was awarded a lopsided number of hits at home. That kind of thing was what led the league to abolish stats such as hits for a couple of years because they were being used in contract negotiations. The NHLPA grieved the decision and the league began using the statistics again.
Have there been some significant hits in the final? Of course. Have there been some spirited battles for pucks? Absolutely. But anyone who is watching this series and seeing an average of 77 hits a game – the Kings were credited with 55 of them in Game 3 – is certainly watching a different game than the one being viewed by your trusty correspondent.
Not that there’s necessarily anything terribly wrong with that. Devils coach Peter DeBoer said both teams are playing physically, but that’s not necessarily what is going to define this series.
“I think probably what’s going to decide this game, like all games, is execution,” DeBoer said the morning of Game 5. “Who can finish a play, get a goal, who can score on the power play, who can execute the best all over the ice.”
Los Angeles Kings coach Darryl Sutter has one regret about being in the Stanley Cup final. He apparently missed Farmers’ Day in Alberta on Friday.
Farmers’ Day was originally proclaimed in 1951 as a school holiday in Alberta. It is no longer a provincial holiday, but school boards in the province can declare the second Friday in June to be a Farmers’ Day if they wish. The purpose of the day is to celebrate the farming community, but Sutter said there are other activities as well.
“It’s like a big picnic with coolers,” Sutter said. “Don’t know if you know what that means.”
The stat line has not been kind to Zach Parise so far in the Stanley Cup final. Playing with a sprained ankle, Parise has no points on 15 shots in four games and is minus-2.
“Zach’s game is so much more than the stat line,” DeBoer said. “He’s the heartbeat of our team. He’s the identity of our team. He forechecks, he backchecks, he kills penalties, plays in all situations. He really is our barometer. He’s the guy who makes us go whether he’s scoring or not.”
Still, it would be much more beneficial if Parise or his linemates could find the back of the net.
Ken Campbell will file daily from the Stanley Cup final.