Is shot-blocking in the NHL today as helpful as everyone says it is? I’m not so sure. It has definitely become some sort of an art-form in today’s NHL with techniques being learned to avoid getting hurt. Many players in the league now wear extra protective equipment, especially on their skates, to help absorb some of the blows from pucks shot from the point. Not everyone wears them but the use of things like foot guards seems to be trending up as more and more players are being asked to block shots.
At what cost though?
There are a few things about shot-blocking that just isn’t as good as people make it out to be. Here are some myths about shot-blocking in today’s NHL.
Blocking Lots of Shots Makes Them a Good Defenseman
Shot-blocking can be an incredibly valuable skill and I don’t want to completely dismiss it as a useful tactic. That being said, just because a defenseman blocks a ton of shots does not make him a good defenseman. First, you have to look at how many more shot-blocks one player has versus another on the same team. Maybe someone has over 50 extra shot-blocks than another defenseman on the same team because the “shot-blocker” is constantly taking on water in his own zone.
Take a look at Kris Russell versus Mark Giordano, defensemen for the Calgary Flames. Russel has 39 more blocked shots at even strength than Giordano. Giordano has an even-strength Corsi-for-% of 50.5 while Russell is getting stuck in his own end a lot with a CF% of 43.62. An almost 7% difference between two defenseman on the same team is pretty outstanding. Giordano actually starts a higher-percentage of his ice-time in the defensive zone than Russell does as well, making matters look even worse.
Dan Girardi is in a similar situation, he’s racking up a ton of blocked shots while being buried in the defensive zone. Girardi has 96 blocked shots at even strength while a guy like Kevin Klein has 75. Girardi’s CF% is an abysmal 42.88 while Klein’s is sitting at 49.68. Another near 7% differential with defensemen on the same team with similar duties. There are two differences in this situation than the Russell/Giordano situation, both good and bad.
Alright Rangers fans, you want the good news or the bad news first? Good? Okay. Girardi starts a higher percentage of his ice time in the defensive zone than anyone else on the Rangers. That could partly play into his rough Corsi-for-%. The bad news is, while Russell only has one year left on his deal with a $2.6M cap hit, Girardi has five years (including this season) left with a $5.5M cap hit. Ouch.
Are Girardi and Russell bad defensemen? Not necessarily, but you could argue that they are the worst of the defensemen on their respective teams. Shot-blocking can be useful but when they’re doing that much of it, there are probably some telling statistics elsewhere to find.
Blocking Shots Always Helps the Goalie
Not all blocked shots are the same, although they appear that way on a stat-sheet. A blocked shot on a 3-on-2 rush against could be a critical block that saves a goal. Blocking, or attempting to block, a shot from the point can sometimes do more harm than good. If the player doesn’t get it, they’ve essentially screened their own goalie who may not be able to pick up the puck as it barely zips past their body.
Maybe it deflects off a skate, arm or stick and changes direction on the way towards the net. That happens pretty frequently in the league and it gives the goaltender a very low chance at making the save.
According to war-on-ice.com, unblocked shot-attempts from the right or left points have produced a 2% shooting-percentage league-wide since the 2008-09 season. Shots from the point near the middle of the ice have produced a shooting percentage of 3%.
I’ll go into it a little more in the final section of this, but is it worth it for the player to be diving to block a point shot every time someone winds up a slap shot? When looking at the shooting percentages and the risk of screening the goaltender, maybe the player should think twice about blocking every shot that comes their way.
Blocking Shots Makes the Player More “Macho”
Gregory Campbell blocks a shot, breaks his leg, finishes his shift and gets off the ice. He’s labeled as a hero by the hockey community. While finishing the shift is valiant and makes for an incredible story, the Bruins are now missing an important penalty-killer for the rest of the playoffs for blocking a shot that probably wasn’t going in anyway.
I know nobody wants to hear that because guys that dive down and block shots are often considered heroic and appreciated for sacrificing their body for the team. Is it worth it?
The Montreal Canadiens were without a key player in Brendan Gallagher for over a month for blocking a Johnny Boychuck shot from the very top corner of the point. I’m thinking a months worth of Gallagher’s production wasn’t worth blocking a shot that had almost no chance of going in.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is in the midst of a 6-8 week absence for blocking a shot from Dmitry Kulikov. Connor McDavid just came back and is tearing it up. If they had Nugent-Hopkins during that time frame, maybe the Oilers are within playoff range.
Getting out-of-the-way of a point shot doesn’t make a player any less of a man. More often than not, it would be the smart thing to do.