Blocking a shot has to be a hard thing to do, and I bet it hurts like hell.
I wouldn’t know for sure. Ask Justin, and I’m sure he’d be able to tell us all about the stories of his teammates getting massive bruises endured from taking pucks routinely off the legs. I’ve never blocked a puck before, but I did one take a saucer pass off the ankle and that really hurt. It almost sort of tripped me up as well and I smashed my elbow on the ice when I fell over.
A couple of months or so ago, we were discussing how much more it would hurt to block a shot outdoors relative to being blocked indoors. We developed a theory that there were fewer shots blocked in Winter Classic games because it was colder and common sense dictated players to stop throwing themselves in front of shots.
I decided to test this out and did a bit of research research, looking at the five outdoor hockey games that we have available to us in the era of awesome hockey statistics. That includes four Winter Classic games and a Heritage Classic last season, so the only outdoor games on the NHL schedule we’re missing is the Heritage Classic from 2003, plus all games played at Nassau Coliseum since Charles Wang found a cost-effective measure to fix his leaky roof problem.
A bit of look into my methodology: rather than just totalling up blocked shots, I decided to look instead of a total percentage of shot attempts at even strength that were blocked using Vic Ferrari’s wonderful timeonice.com widgets to sort through total team seasons, as well as the individual games to figure out how many shot attempts were blocked…
In five outdoor games, the 10 teams combined for 100 shot blocks on 466 shot attempts, at a 21.5% shot block percentage. By comparison, those ten teams, in the full season they’ve played in (for the same year that they were in an outdoor game) they blocked 8368 of 33363 shot attempts, or a 25% shot block percentage.
Now, before we run home and tell our mothers that we’ve discovered that players wimp out a little more in the cold, let’s keep in mind that many teams have arena scorers who drastically differentiate between what is a shot block and what isn’t. Montreal, in particular, really warps the data because they block so many shots at home (and don’t seem to block too many on the road).
What I did to get around this when I saw the initial discrepancy between indoor and outdoor shot block percentage, is that I sorted out whether or not the teams played at home or on the road. For example, Pittsburgh played in Buffalo in the 2008 Classic, so I looked at just the road shot blocks of their entire 2008 season to come up with a new result.
Taking into account arena biases and accommodating those (I assume that the Buffalo home scorers in 2008 also worked the Winter Classic as well) the percentages are slightly closer, but not by much: 24.8% of all shot attempts were blocked if we account for home and road games.
There’s a good chance that this is just a coincidence, especially when you consider that the difference between a 21.5% shot block rate and a 24.8% shot block rate is about 2 blocks per game. But the limited data that we have shows teams and players are blocking fewer shots outdoors than indoors. Who knows why this is, whether it’s due to players feeling the pain more, skating slower to cover the shooting lanes, or offensive players are taking fewer reckless shots from the point and trying to set up pretty plays in front of their home fans.
The most reckless team in the data set are the 2010 Philadelphia Flyers, who blocked 19 of 50 shot attempts in their outdoor game against the Boston Bruins, an incredible shot block percentage of 38%. The road version of the 2010 Flyers blocked 26% of pucks that season otherwise, by comparison.
By contrast, the wimpiest team outdoors are the 2009 Detroit Red Wings from the Classic at Wrigley Field in 2008. They blocked just five of 47 shot attempts for a rate of just 10.6%. The Red Wings are also significantly “worse” at blocking shots than the other teams on the list, blocking just 19.6% of all attempts.
And, in case you were wondering, the 2012 incarnations of the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers, set to take to the ice later today, block shots at pretty significant rates. The Flyers have blocked 27.3% of all attempts on home ice this season, while the Rangers have blocked 27.4% of attempts on the road. This could be the game that really tests the theory to whether or not these teams block fewer pucks as the temperature drops.