When Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews went down with an upper body injury in the second period of Sunday night’s loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, there were plenty of fans on Twitter that felt the team should have immediately responded in kind by going after Penguins star Sidney Crosby.
Lest anyone think these thoughts were just passing fantasies of violent revenge, there were apparently some commentators who felt the Blackhawks should have done something to that effect as well. Count NHL Network analyst (and former Chicago Blackhawk) Jamal Mayers among them.
During a radio interview on Tuesday morning, Mayers said the Hawks’ failure to respond to the hit, whether through retribution against Crosby or someone trying to fight Pittsburgh defenseman Brooks Orpik (who delivered the hit on Toews) is something that could haunt them later on down the road:
...vulnerable position, you're a target. And if Orpik (or whoever) didn't want to fight, then you go after their best player. — Kap & Haugh (@KapandHaugh) April 1, 2014
While fantasies of revenge are often good coping mechanisms for the stress of seeing your team’s best player go down in the manner that Toews did, there are several reasons why the Blackhawks were right to approach the situation the way that they did. For starters, there is the fact that the score of the game was only 2-1 at that point. Those two points that the Hawks could have gotten from the contest would have gone a long way toward their attempt to gain home ice advantage in a first round playoff series, likely against the Colorado Avalanche, and trying to exact revenge on Crosby or Orpik would have distracted from that goal.
The second thing wrong with the statement is that this notion of the Hawks being a “soft” team isn’t a new one. For years now, pundits and fans alike have pointed to the team’s low hit total and lack of a real enforcer as weaknesses, but the fact of the matter is that the Blackhawks don’t win games by being the more physical and brutish side. They win games by possessing the puck, scoring tons of goals, and using their sticks and body positioning to make defensive plays. That strategy has led to two Stanley Cups in four seasons, and there are few arguments more compelling that that when it comes to debunking this “softness” nonsense.
Finally, the Hawks were right not to respond to the hit because it was a legal one. Too often in the NHL now, teams will freak out and begin throwing fists whenever there’s a hit along the boards, and the whole thing takes on an air of absurdity after a while. No, Orpik’s hit wasn’t necessarily clean, as he did clearly launch up into Toews on the play, but it was legal because his feet were on the ground when he made contact, and because he made contact with Toews’ shoulder first before hitting the head on the follow through. That’s the reason that NHL discipline czar Brendan Shanahan didn’t suspend Orpik, and that’s the reason the Hawks didn’t come out of the dressing room in the third period looking for blood.
For all we know, Toews told his teammates in the locker room between periods that the injury wasn’t that serious, and that they needed to focus on getting two points in the game instead of trying to avenge his ailments. This notion that they weren’t sticking up for their captain is a silly notion that needs to be dispelled quickly, because frankly this team has much bigger fish to fry if they’re serious about defending their championship come playoff time.