It was a foot race. Marian Hossa - at the ripe age of 32- loves foot races.
With about eight minutes left in the third period, the visiting Chicago Blackhawks up 2-1 on the Vancouver Canucks, Hossa outhustled Alex Edler to a puck that floated into the Vancouver end. Hossa chipped across to Viktor Stalberg, who tapped it back to Jonathan Toews and it was 3-1.
“I like the races for the puck,” Hossa said in an interview after the game. “I felt like I had a good jump. I tried to make something of it.”
It was Hossa’s second of three assists on Wednesday night in Vancouver, increasing the right winger’s season point total to 21 in 18 games. It puts him on pace for 96 points, which would be the second-best season of his career, after the 100 he notched for Atlanta in 2006-07.
The production in Vancouver put him at No. 6 on the league’s scoring ledger- and his impressive +14 rating is tied for No 2. It’s hustle that has made Hossa- and his massive contract - a centrepiece of this year’s Chicago Blackhawks success. On Wednesday, The Hawks avenged the team’s early November 6-2 loss to Vancouver in Chicago and showed why they are the No 1 team in the league.
While Hossa mostly shrugged about his so-far sterling season- “It’s just the beginning of the year, I try to help the team win some hockey games” - his coach was effusive.
“He’s having an outstanding year,” said Chicago chief Joel Quenneville.
“Consistency, working both sides of the puck, special teams, intelligence- he’s the perfect player.”
The book on Hossa was considerably less ebullient the past two seasons. His so-so scoring (51 points in 57 games in the Chicago Cup year of 2009-10 and 57 points in 65 games last year) didn’t seem to justify his Roberto Luongo-like contract, which at times looked like an anvil, not an advantage for Chicago.
Through 18 games, the one-time No. 1 pick of Ottawa Senators is on pace for 36 goals, 60 assists (which would be a career best) and 96 points. His first assist came midway through the second, on a powerplay goal by Patrick Kane, the second of two successive powerplay goals to give the Hawks their first lead at 2-1. His sprint to beat Edler to the puck in the third was shortly thereafter followed more impressive work. Facing a clutch of Canucks in the Vancouver end, Hossa deftly stickhandled, pulled a nifty spin and backhanded a pass to charging defenceman Steve Montador whose rocket blew by Vancouver backup Cody Schneider to ice the thing at 5-1 with about three minutes to go.
“I didn’t have a great play going forward so I tried to spin,” said Hossa. “I learned from [22-year-old Chicago star]Patrick Kane, a little spin-o-rama, and it worked.”