As 500-goal mark looms, Marian Hossa still focused on defense

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Marian Hossa doesn’t cheat.

You never see Hossa lingering along the blue line, idly hoping for an outlet pass. You never see Hossa peel away from the corner before a puck battle is won. You never see Hossa go through the motions in the defensive zone, conserving his energy for any transition chances.

At least, you never see it anymore.

“When I was younger, I was strictly offense,” Hossa said. “Definitely. When I came to the league, I was all about offense, and didn’t worry about defense at all. I just wanted to score goals. But I had so many good seasons and never won anything. Eventually, I realized I’d rather win something and not worry about if I scored 40 or 30 goals.”

As Hossa approaches the magical 500-goal mark — he enters Thursday’s game against Dallas with 496 in his 17-season career — it’s worth noting that if he really wanted to, he could have passed 500 long ago. With his remarkable combination of speed, size, power and skill, Hossa spent most of the 2000s tearing up the league, three times scoring 40 or more goals in a season.

And even at 37 years old, Hossa is an offensive menace, able to outrun and outmuscle opponents barely half his age. Witness his virtuoso performance in Arizona last week, when he was the best and most active player on the ice, posting a goal and an assist, and having another goal disallowed.

“We all know what Hoss can do offensively,” said longtime linemate Jonathan Toews. “What makes him such a special player is how good he is at both ends of the ice, though.”

There wasn’t one revelatory moment for Hossa, an epiphanic thunderbolt that transformed him into a two-way player, one who’s actually happier lifting sticks and stealing pucks than firing shots and scoring goals. It happened more gradually than that, with the metamorphosis becoming complete during his three-year quest to win his first Stanley Cup. After losing in the Final with Pittsburgh in 2008 and then Detroit in 2009, Hossa signed with the Blackhawks to make a third run at a championship. The agony of those two Final losses weighed on Hossa, and suddenly a 40-goal season wasn’t as fulfilling as it used to be.

And when he looked around at all the young talent on his new team, Hossa realized he didn’t have to do all the heavy lifting offensively, and that he could chip in and lead in other ways to complement his new teammates.

“It’s hard to play really hard both ways, because you don’t have as much juice after,” Hossa said. “But I knew I could help defensively with backchecking and trying to help shut down top lines. With players like Jonathan Toews and Brandon Saad and now [Artemi] Panarin who can go full speed offensively, I don’t have to worry. I can kind of split the difference.”

It’s not that Hossa doesn’t want to score goals. He certainly has been frustrated at times with his shockingly low 6.3 shooting percentage — barely half his career average — and his relatively low output this season. Just two years ago, he scored 30 goals. Last year, he had 22. So far this year, he has just 10, making his expected triumphant march to 500 more of a slog than anyone anticipated. And, sure, even Hossa admitted that he started to wonder if he’d even get there this year, especially during a 14-game drought around New Year’s.

But the Hawks are in first place. And to Hossa, that’s all that matters. Yes, he probably could have scored No. 500 a long time ago if he were still that young, gung-ho, offensive-minded kid with the Ottawa Senators. He knows that. His teammates know that. But with experience comes perspective.

It’s not about the goals. It’s about THE goal.

“I really don’t care about it,” Hossa said of No. 500. “If it’s 500 or 600, it doesn’t make a difference in my life. It definitely would be nice to get the milestone, but I’d rather be winning Stanley Cups. That makes me happier.”


Twitter: @marklazerus

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