What is old-time hockey? In short, it is a sloppy, physical, very simple form of the game often associated within the modern NHL if a game either has a line brawl or low-scoring playoff feel. Old-time hockey is often a hard-hitting affair, but one in which stars can separate themselves amongst a leveled playing field. The tempo is often slowed dramatically, with finesse offenses screeching to a halt like an unwilling, runaway train being forced to do something nearly impossible.
That is why old-time hockey is usually a nemesis of uptempo teams such as the Chicago Blackhawks. When faced with an even faceoff percentage (the Buffalo Sabres actually won the faceoff battle 28-27), the Blackhawks often struggle for consistent puck possession. And when they do have the puck, more traditional teams such as the Sabres coached by Ted Nolan have a field day with checking and hitting.
Tonight, the Sabres outhit the Blackhawks 18-3, but there will be minimal fretting as the Blackhawks escaped Buffalo with a win. This game had various similarities to Nolan’s Latvian team losing 2-1 to Canada in the Olympics. It was a hard-fought game in which Nolan used physicality and board play in an attempt to neutralize a faster, more talented offense.
It nearly worked then, and it nearly worked again tonight. That the Blackhawks were able to escape with a win bodes well going forward.
Although the talent gap is certainly dramatic, the Blackhawks will be facing old-time hockey more and more as the season winds down and the playoffs begin. No team has found more success against the Blackhawks with regards to smothering physicality than the St. Louis Blues.
What is the recipe for surviving a physical duel? Well for starters, a strong fourth line or checking line to fight fire with fire certainly helps, and although not physically imposing, Brandon Bollig, Marcus Kruger and Ben Smith have proven to be incredibly consistent throughout the season.
Secondly, as shown yet again tonight, stars are able to overcome repressing, asphyxiating defenses. The Blackhawks’ two biggest stars, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, found the back of the net. Despite scoring five or more goals for the 23rd time the game before and boasting the NHL’s best goals-per-game offense, the Blackhawks survived with only two goals.
Although that’s rare, it is likely to become more common for a team that enters the playoffs with a target on their backs.
Follow Mike Guzman on Twitter @Mike486