Turris, scheming a way around Girardi's block attempt

I’ve been getting a little irked over the past couple weeks with more and more people piling on the “What do we do about shot-blocking” bandwagon? It’s been the theme of the last week or two, at least.

My solution?

We let the players shoot through screens, pump-fake to drop defenders and create chances, and pass it around the guys trying to get in front of it. You know, like in hockey, where you try to score by figuring out what your opponent is doing, then out-thinking him.

Different teams have different strengths, and a good coach will recognize what his are, and play to them. Bad coaches know what style they want their teams to play, and they’ll try to force players into roles they aren’t ideally suited for.

John Tortorella and the New York Rangers happen to be a perfect fit – he likes grit and shot-blocking and hitting and old school hockey – his team excels at showing grit and blocking shots and hitting and playing old school hockey. He has guys like Ryan Callahan, Brandon Prust, Mike Rupp, Brian Boyle, Dan Girardi, Brandon Dubinsky, Marc Staal and on and on and on who just happen to be very good at blocking shots, and very willing to try.

That’s half the reason this is coming up – the team that’s winning the East is a good shot-blocking team. Every year we see the recency phenomenon take hold - remember when the Stanley Cup Final featured Michael Leighton and Antti Niemi? A few teams miraculously, and foolishly, came to the conclusion that you no longer need great goaltending to win, and acted accordingly in the off-season. Look at the four teams left this year. Nice conclusion, fellas.

The teams who happened to succeed this year are all defensive specialists (save for, dare I say it, the New Jersey Devils?) with great goaltending, but that doesn’t mean it’ll be that way next year. Teams like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh could very well be in our final four in 2012-2013.

Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals may not exactly have been a thrill ride, but I’m not chalking that up to guys giving up their bodies for the good of the team. Maybe the Rangers were tired. Maybe the Devils were rusty. Or maybe they have two coaches who think the old-school concept of “shoot from anywhere!” is still a good idea despite the fact that they know guys are willing to sacrifice their personal health to stop shots from getting though to the net.

Eric Duhatschek is a writer for the Toronto Globe and Mail, and a very good one at that. I admire his work. But when I read his piece that kicked around a Pierre Pagé idea from the 90s – that the NHL implement a key and a “three in the key” rule like the one in basketball – I just couldn’t believe my eyes. I understand that as a columnist your job is to start the conversation, which he very clearly has, but that’s just a touch drastic, if not downright silly, right? Talk about changing the entire flow of a hockey game.

(I can see it now – “The corners are too clogged now so nobody can make a play.” “It’s putting too many big bodies in a smaller outside area and people are getting hurt.” “The d-men aren’t involved in the offense anymore because there’s no room up high anymore.” “Nobody can get a clean shot off because there’s more people on the ice outside the key.” “Can you believe the amount of waved off goals because of whistles on key violations?” Not only would the whole flow of the game be altered, you’d essentially be creating the “skate in the crease” nightmare we got rid of years ago, only super-sized. Hell, you’d almost be creating a new game.)

There has been a ton of shot-blocking in playoffs this season, as usual, and probably more than we’ve seen since Montreal upset Washington a couple years back. But that’s what hockey is – trying to get the puck in your opponent’s net and keep it out of yours. That takes creativity and skill and luck, and the fact that shot-blocking can also be a negative (when opponents use the d-men in front as screens) provides some element of risk/reward. Should I get out of the way for my goalie’s sake or get in front of it?

We don’t need a key. We don’t need new rules. We need the current rules enforced, well, and to teach our young d-men to get their head’s up and to shoot around guys. Shoot it wide and try to have the puck kick out in front. Get creative.

You adapt and you evolve. It just happens to be one of those years where defensive teams have had success. Who knows what’ll be the new hottness next year.

Comments (16)

  1. I’m glad someone spoke up about all this anti-shot blocking bs thats been flying around. All we should do about shot blocking is stand up and applaud the guy who sacrifices his body for his team.

  2. …”teach our young d-men to get their head’s up and to shoot around guys. Shoot it wide and try to have the puck kick out in front. Get creative.”

    Seriously. I keep seeing analysts talking about how the most important thing on so-and-so’s goal was that he got it through to net. How many times have we heard, “it wasn’t a hard shot, but it go through to the net”. D-men don’t need to slap a rocket from the point every time. Just wrist the puck through. Even that sliver of time it takes to wind up for the shot gives the shot blocker an extra step to get in front of it. And like you said, play the boards. If theres no shot there, hit it wide and play the bounce.

    • Easier said than done. Half the guys in the show will just knock anything slower than a slapshot down and start an oddman break the other way.

  3. I’d rather see bigger nets, honestly, if shot blocking is that big of a concern. My half-arsed logic is simple- lots of shots blocked? Give a bigger target!

  4. Being a former goalie I loved it when my wingers actually stayed on their points and blocked or attempted to block shots out high. What I wasn’t fond of was my D trying to block shots with their sticks. Being a little goalie I had to challenge a lot so fortunately I was pretty close to most deflections making them easier to stop but I digress.

    100% with you on D men needing to be more creative on the point rather than just blasting away. Good read.

  5. View: Bigger nets isn’t the great idea it sounds. As a goalie or shotblocker, you know all about angles. Quite simply, the closer you are to the shot, the more net you’re going to take up, the more chance you have at blocking the shot. Let’s say that we make the nets a foot wider and taller. Will it matter if the guy blocking the shot is 5 feet away? Probably not, the shot blocker is still going to have most of the net covered.

    My solution: Make the ice wider. They already do it in Europe and elsewhere in international hockey. More space out wide means that the defending team has to be more spread out, and reduces the chances that there will be a guy in position to make a block.

    • On wider ice: I love the idea, but two things torpedo it in the States. First is teams will lose seats along the glass to make room. Those seats are high-dollar-value seats and generate a lot of revenue (a big deal for a lot of smaller teams). Second is that it will mess with the sight lines for some of the higher up seats. Instead of looking just over the head of the guy in front to see the near-side boards, suddenly customers have to stand up to look, which has a negative cascading effect on the people further back. That affects season ticket sales in those seats. The best way to address both of those issues, refitting the arena, also carries a big price tag. As much as I’d love to see bigger ice, I think owners will frown on anything that prevents them from selling more tickets.

      PS- somewhere on the web is a cost-analysis on refitting US/Canada rinks to utilize the larger ice surface. The price per year and upfront costs were pretty high, if I recall.

  6. This “blockey” histeria sounds a lot like the drivel that was being screamed about Guy Boucher and the 1 -3 – 1.

    If the Penguins practiced “blockey” the way Fleury was playing, they would have lost by as many or more.

    It works for the Rangers, A) because they’re good at it & B) they have one of the top goalies in the world using the jedi mind trick on pucks that manage to get through.

  7. If you ask me, the solution to all woes in offensive hockey is to replicate the detroit red wings end boards and teach these guys to play billiards.

    Sure, try to block the shot – I’m going to bounce it off the end board on a perfect angle to my winger who is behind you who will one time it top shelf.

    Bouncy Boards!!!!! That doesn’t cost seats, it doesn’t ruin the integrity of the game (soccer nets), and it’s cheap to install.

  8. I agree that the anti-shot blocking stuff is kind of silly, but I don’t mind Bob Gainey’s suggestion that players be prevented from sliding/diving to block shots. It forces the shot blockers to be a bit more skilled/intelligent about it, and also might create more rushes the other way – player slides to block shot, puck bounces behind the defensemen, but the player is down and can’t capitalise vs. player goes to one knee, puck bounces behind defensemen and player quickly chases after it, generating a scoring opportunity.

  9. The easiest and most graceful solution to low scoring has got to be to reduce the size of goalie equipment.

    I saw Mike Smith without his jersey on in the Yotes/Preds series, and a bunch of us were laughing at the ridiculous size of the pads on his arms (nevermind his pads/jersey/chest protector, blocker, and the fact that he’s a big dude without any gear). I played through Midget and I’d never seen anything like the equipment Smith is rocking, and I assume the rest of the goalies are the same.

  10. They already shrunk goalie equipment sizes once, right after the Roy era. And guys like Martin Brodeur adapted and use positioning and skill to keep the pucks out. There shouldn’t be any solutions because this kind of hockey is exciting. I hate blowouts. I would take a 2-1 or a 1-0 game over a 5-4 game anyday. It’s a team game at that point, shot blocks, cycles, etc.

    • Cool, that’s your opinion. I think the gear is too large (and Kay Whitmore agrees)

      “We have to get back to the beginning of what equipment was for in the first place”
      – NHL goaltending supervisor, Kay Whitmore, 2008

      Also, I don’t think a 2-0 lead in the second period should be virtually insurmountable, as it is right now, and as it is in soccer.

  11. Well, the reason for the increased shot blocking is the thick, hard plastic equipment. The armour these guys have now is actually frightening, and is a big reason for the increase in concussions, I’m sure.

    Back in the day, when Ken Morrow or someone decided to block a shot, it was heroic because there was a high probability for a season-ending injury. Now, Vegas odds are that as long as you cover your face, the armour will protect you without so much as it even hurting.

    However, now that we’ve seen the game is back to soccer on ice, the NHL needs to grow a pair and make the nets marginally bigger. I know that’s sacrilegeous to some, but it’s past due time,.

    Other sports have adjusted their game to fix inequity and maintain balance. The NHL is our of balance when the majority of these games are decided by the first goal scored in the final period. MLB has raised and lowered the pitching mound a bunch of times in response to home run output. This is the same thing. Make the nets bigger.

  12. sorry, i meant to write out of balance, above

  13. The way to put an end to shot blocking is to start having the O shoot head high at the beginning of the game. I’m pretty sure that would discourage D men from getting int he way of shots.

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