Kukla's Korner Hockey
by Paul on 10/23/05 at 10:37 AM ET
It's a game of special-teams play. Yes, there is a flood of more skating and more scoring. Games are more exciting. The fans seem to like it. No lead is safe. People stay longer to watch games. Yet there is such a huge emphasis on special teams. And the long-standing tradition of crunching checks is all but gone. Is this a better game than before? That's what a lot of people are asking. Perhaps the more precise question should be: Is this what hockey is going to evolve into? And if so, will the fans, the players, the coaches, and the general managers embrace it as NHL hockey? "It is what it is," said Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock. "It's a new game." Players say they are actually fresher because there is less five-on-five action during games and more time spent on special teams. Once upon a time, Hitchcock prepared two penalty kill units and two play units. These days, he has three power plays and four penalty kill units. He needs that many people on special teams because the game has been tilted in that direction. "The special-teams game now in the NHL has the potential, on every night, to have a bigger bite in the game," he said. "This is uncommon. It's never happened before in the NHL."
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