By Rhys Richards (@RREsq)
The Detroit Red Wings began their Christmas week in western Canada on a high note for by beating the young, increasingly confident Edmonton Oilers. Detroit’s strong start quickly turned for the worse, however, as they lost the next two games to the Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames.
Despite a less than successful 1-2 road trip, a hit by human wrecking ball Niklas Kronwall on Vancouver’s Ryan Kesler drew more attention that anything else. Kronwall delivered Kesler, whose head was down, as he skated the puck out of his own zone.
As Red Wings fans have seen before, Kronwall skated backwards into Kesler the Canucks top defensive forward and notorious pest. Kronwall’s momentum combined with Kesler’s close proximity to the ice caused Kronwall to go over the top of Kesler. An embarrassed and angry Kesler then went after Kronwall after the whistle in an attempt to draw the Swede into a fight.
Martin Havlat, Dany Heatley, and Ryane Clowe, among others, have felt Kesler’s pain.
Kronwall is an unassuming six-foot, 190 pounds. While Kronwall is known for the huge, open ice hits that led to the coining of the term “Kronwalled,” a closer look at his statistics undercuts the mean streak for which he has become known.
Going into tonight’s game against Central Division rival St. Louis, Kronwall is tied with Darren Helm for fifth most hits on the team with 46. While Kronwall averages more than one hit a game, stay-at-home defenseman Brad Stuart leads the team by a fair margin with 79 hits followed by pesky forward Justin Abdelkader with 64 hits.
As most NHL fans know, Detroit has not been known for its physicality for some time. To put Kronwall’s hits total in perspective, fellow big-hitting defenseman Matt Martin of the New York Islanders leads the league with 146 hits going into action tonight. Minnesota’s Cal Clutterbuck, Los Angeles’ Dustin Brown, New York’s Ryan Callahan, and Washington’s Troy Brouwer round out the top-five with 139, 117, 114, and 112 hits, respectively. Toronto’s Dion Phaneuf, another game-changing hitter, has 71 hits.
During Kronwall’s tenure in Detroit, he has never led the team in hits in the regular season. In fact, the highest he has ever finished in total hits during the regular season is fourth. While any comparisons necessarily have to keep in mind Kronwall’s somewhat significant injury history, Kronwall’s highest hit total came last season when he registered 113 in 77 games.
In the 2008-2009 season, Kronwall was at his healthiest playing 80 regular season games. He had 96 hits, good enough for fifth most on the team behind Stuart, former Wing Tomas Kopecky, current Wing Danny Cleary, and the now retired Kris Draper.
But for injuries, Kronwall may have registered his highest hits total in the 2009-2010 season when he averaged 1.79 hits per game. Had Kronwall stayed healthy and maintained that rate over an entire 82-game season, he would have contributed nearly 147 hits. That season, Clutterbuck won the league’s hit title with 356 hits in 78 games. The most physical defenseman wasPittsburgh’s Brooks Orpik, who tallied 309 hits in 79 games.
Detroit’s opponents should certainly continue to keep their heads up when Kronwall is on the ice, but his big hitting reputation does not paint a completely accurate picture.
In 2008-2009, Kronwall scored a career-high 51 points. In three less games last season, he posted his second-highest career points total with 37. This season, Kronwall has 16 points going into tonight’s game. Should Kronwall maintain that pace over 82 games, he will match last season’s production.
The Keslers of the hockey world can want to fight Kronwall all they want and fans of other teams can love to hate Kronwall if they so choose, but the reality is that the relatively normal-sized Swede is more likely to burn other teams on the scoresheet than he is to Kronwall one of their players.
Statistics and other information obtained at http://redwings.nhl.com/club/roster.htm and www.nhl.com. The Kronwall hit on Kesler can be seen at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YLUrT4Q8IGY.
Share your thoughts the Red Wings, the NHL, and hockey in general with Rhys at Twitter: @RREsq. He can be reached via email at RhysJRichards@gmail.com. Join the many fans of The Hockey Guys on Facebook and Twitter @TheHockeyGuys.