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NHLers talk the art of the reverse hit: 'It can be satisfying'

Charlie McAvoy is happy to have it in his tool belt.

The art of landing a reverse hit — when a player, usually a defenceman, with the puck initiates contact before an opponent looking to do the same — is fairly straightforward.

The satisfaction in the immediate aftermath is also part of the package.

"Look like you're going for the puck," McAvoy, a star blueliner with the Boston Bruins, explained of his process.

"And then just stop and drill him."

Philadelphia Flyers head coach John Tortorella said last week the NHL is turning into a "no-hit league."

There's no doubt physical play has scaled back in the regular season over the last decade as hockey zeroed in on speed and skill.

There are, however, still plenty of bodies running into each other.

"Yea, I have," Detroit Red Wings captain Dylan Larkin said with a smile when asked before the season if he's been caught by a reverse hit. "It's a weapon. When you're not expecting it and you get reverse hit, it hurts.

"You're not ready for it."

A defenceman standing his ground when the opposition is bearing down on the forecheck can earn that extra split-second to make a play.

One of Larkin's Detroit teammates, Moritz Seider, is adept at the move.

"He's got some guys," said the centre. "I'm sure guys are second-guessing. I would be if I was forechecking him."

Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Morgan Rielly said a good reverse hit can propel a clean breakout.

"You're trying to create a little bit space," he said. "(The contact) can be satisfying. But if you don't get him, it's tough. There's a time and a place."

Minnesota Wild winger Matt Boldy said players hunting the puck have to wary of elite reverse-hitting defenders like McAvoy, Seider and Cale Makar of the Colorado Avalanche.

"Part of the game," Boldy said. "Hard to have someone follow you into the corner and expect to make a play that's half-decent.

"It's the smaller guys that you don't expect to (reverse hit), but are just so strong in their skates that they really catch you by surprise."

Seattle Kraken centre Matty Beniers said forwards have the option to turn the tables and create separation.

"It's a good play," he said. "Definitely something that (attacking players) can use more in the offensive zone."

Leafs winger Noah Gregor said he's yet to be put flat on his back by reverse hit.

"There's some really good players that can catch guys," he said. "It's a skill ... they know the timing of it.

"If I get caught, I'm not going to be too pissed off. You've got to be aware."

McAvoy said from a defenceman's perspective, the protection and self-preservation aspect of a reverse hit is as important as the contact or gaining that extra step.

"If you know someone's coming, if you get the chance to initiate contact instead of the other way around ... it's a vulnerable area," he said. "Gotta be a little calculated with it. But if you can initiate contact and knock him down, it's even better."

BIG-GAME HUNTERS

The Arizona Coyotes weren't expected to make much noise in 2023-24. They've become a significant threat two months into the schedule.

Arizona sat in the first Western Conference wild-card spot entering Wednesday's action thanks to a string surprising victories against the last five Stanley Cup winner — Vegas, Tampa Bay, Colorado, St. Louis and Washington.

Coyotes goaltender Connor Ingram, the NHL's first star last week, is 5-0-0 over that span with two shutouts and a .968 save percentage.

SEEING RED

Patrick Kane had a long career with the Chicago Blackhawks before last season's trade to the New York Rangers. After recovering from off-season hip surgery, the 35-year-old winger signed with the Detroit Red Wings last week.

"He looks a little weird in all that Detroit red," said Brent Seabrook, a three-time Cup winner with Kane in Chicago. "When he was traded last year to the Rangers he looked super weird in blue."

Kane was originally expected to make his Wings debut Tuesday in Buffalo, but will instead have to wait a little longer. Detroit hosts San Jose on Thursday.

"I'm pumped for him," said Seabrook, whose playing career as a minute-crunching defenceman was cut short by injuries in December 2019. "He's been through a lot the last year or so with his health. It's nice to see him out there. I know he's excited. We've exchanged some texts.

"One of my favourite players to watch play. I was lucky enough to have a front-row seat to through most of his career to date."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 6, 2023.

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Joshua Clipperton's weekly NHL notebook is published every Wednesday.

Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press