PHILADELPHIA — Hip checks have gone out of style in recent years as the NHL shifts toward a more speed-based game.
Brayden McNabb is doing his part to ensure they don’t completely disappear.
The Golden Knights’ defenseman has nearly perfected the technique over his eight-year career, using his backside to punish opposing players who dare to carry the puck along the wall.
“Honestly, in junior, I never did that hit. And then, all of a sudden, it was like my first game in the NHL and I made a hit like that and I was like, ‘Hmm, I guess that works,’ ” McNabb said. “It’s something that I’ve been pretty good at at the pro level. At times, it has got me into trouble. But over the years, I’ve really kind of dialed in when and when I shouldn’t be doing it.”
To throw a hip check, a defender bends his knees and leads with his hip while making contact with the opposing player’s lower body. Any contact at or below the knee results in a penalty for clipping.
Executed correctly, the hit can have a devastating effect on the puck carrier, often sending them cartwheeling to the ice.
However, McNabb prefers to slam opponents against the boards as they enter the zone rather than in open ice, making his technique more of a “(butt) check,” according to coach Gerard Gallant.
“He throws one of those hits every three or four games that are big hits,” Gallant said. “Not a whole lot of guys do that. Rob Blake used to do it real well. There’s a couple guys like that. But Nabber steps into guys at the right time. He doesn’t try to hurt people, but he hits them pretty hard.”
McNabb, who recently appeared in his 400th NHL game, developed his reputation for hip checks during his three seasons with Los Angeles and brought it to the Knights after being selected in the expansion draft.
He caught Washington’s Evgeny Kuznetsov with a legal, modified hip check during Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final in 2018, knocking the Capitals’ standout from the game.
In December, the 6-foot-4-inch, 212-pound McNabb backed into Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon, and the Avalanche star struggled to get to the bench before he was able to recover.
“Nabber does a really good job of, he’s kind of hiding in the weeds and he catches the guy at the last second,” left wing Max Pacioretty said. “His isn’t entirely the hip. He comes across and a lot of the times he gets a shoulder on them. But he moves pretty well once he’s going sideways on that blue line.”
During the preseason, McNabb blasted Los Angeles’ Blake Lizotte in the neutral zone, dislodging the rookie’s helmet in the process.
He also clipped Austin Wagner of the Kings with his hip during the first period Oct. 13, though he didn’t get all of the speedy winger.
And therein lies the problem.
The risk often outweighs the reward, as whiffing on a hip check can take a defender out of the play and lead to an odd-man rush.
“It is a lost art, I think, because for the most part it seems like something that you’re either fully committed to it — you’re all-in — or you’re just getting roasted on it,” Pacioretty said.
For McNabb, the key is knowing when he has the proper angle on an unsuspecting opponent.
“Now that I’ve been doing it for a long time, it’s all about timing, and a lot of times it’s who has the puck. High-end skill guys, they’re hard to get. You rarely get them,” McNabb said. “But it’s something that’s kind of grown into my game. It’s something that’s useful and can be intimidating.”
Who: Golden Knights at Flyers
When: 4 p.m. Monday
Where: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia
TV: AT&T SportsNet (Cox 313/1313, DirecTV 684, CenturyLink 760/1760, U-verse 757/1757, Dish 414/5414)
Radio: KRLV (98.9 FM, 1340 AM)
Line: Knights -115; total 6