If you watched the game between the Detroit Red Wings and Philadelphia Flyers last night or caught the highlights on any sports network’s morning loop then you were certain to see the devastating hit laid on Flyers forward Jakub Voracek by Red Wings defenceman Niklas Kronwall.
Over the past few seasons Kronwall has become what Scott Stevens was during his time, with his penchant for catching players with their heads down and lowering the boom with a huge hit.
Unlike someone like Stevens, Kronwall’s game isn’t centered around playing tough and physical. In fact, Kronwall is mainly known as a gifted two-way defender with great mobility, puck-smarts and one-on-one play.
Yes, he hits very hard but it seems that the only time he does look to play physically is when he knows he is going to catch someone with his head.
A look at his hits and you will see that they mostly occur under the same circumstance.
It starts with the opposing player receiving the puck on the same side of the ice that Kronwall is monitoring. The player gets the puck and looks to immediately gather speed and head up ice. As there are very few NHL defencemen who will look to pinch and take out the puck carrier, the player thinks the way is clear of defenders and he will be able to skate a few strides without impedement. Wrong. Kronwall, knowing the player has his head down, skates toward him and explodes into the unexpecting player with, as we saw last night, thunderous force.
Aside from making contact with the head, Kronwall’s hit on Voracek, like most of his hits, was within the rules. There have been other instances however, such as his hit on Ryan Kesler earlier in the year that can be looked at in a different manner. A manner that sees Kronwall as more of an annoyance than anything else.
On the Kesler hit, Kronwall turns his body to the puck-carrier and hits him almost completely with his back. Kesler was furious after the hit but admitted it was a clean check after the game.
However, it was clear on the ice that Kesler didn’t like it and that probably has to with three things:
1. What I touched on earlier about Kronwall not being considered a physical or tough player outside of hitting players in a vulnerable position.
2. the fact that he turned his body in an effort to increase the impact while lessening the chances of injuring himself, and
3. A hard-nosed player like Kesler would also be put off by the way in which Kronwall thinks he, [as NHL players like to say], never has to answer the bell. Whether you agree with it or not, it has become an unwritten rule that if you are going to go around looking to crush guys with their heads down then you better be willing to back it up when someone on the other team comes looking for retribution in the way of a fisticuff. Kronwall does not fall in line with that notion and looks to avoid any reprecussion that may be coming his way.
Kronwall will not be suspended for the hit on Voracek just as he hasn’t been for any of his other massive checks, but regardless of whether his hits are considered within the rules, his intentions will continue to be questioned by those around the NHL; including his peers.