Photo: Patrick Smith
This season, the Washington Capitals blocked just under 1,000 shots in 82 regular-season games. That averages out to about a dozen a game. In Game One of the first round against the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday night, the Caps got in the way of 23 shots. The usual suspects of John Carlson, Matt Niskanen and Karl Alzner did much of the work. But so did skill players like Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov.
“Not even pain,” Kuznetsov said when a reporter asked him about a key shot he absorbed. ”I fake it.”
That's some heart right there. Dude's a winner. pic.twitter.com/IVKq6fa4lz
— Ian Oland (@ianoland) April 15, 2016
In the playoffs, the number of blocked shots skyrockets. The Flyers nearly matched the Caps with 21 of them on Thursday. Traffic in front of the net also increases with players willing to lose a tooth to help their team score a key postseason goal.
“It’s the playoffs, everything’s on the line,” star Philadelphia defensemen Shayne Gostisbehere said after practice Friday. “You know desperation, a lot of shot blocking is going to be happening.”
For goaltenders, this can present a problem.
“I’m never going to complain about the guys in front of me blocking shots,” Flyers goalie Steve Mason said. “It’s not easy to do. It hurts, especially with the guys that they have shooting the puck. You like to see the guys competing like that. Sometimes it goes off our guys and into the net, but more often than not well take the effort that the guys are putting forth.”
For Capitals netminder Braden Holtby, communication with his defenders is key.
“Especially on your team, it’s usually a lot easier for us to see because it’s predictable,” Holtby told reporters after the Capitals’ morning skate ahead of Game Two. “There’s not the kind of last minute movement out of the lane. There’s less crossing in front of you. There’s just a straight line to the puck shooter. It makes it easier on us that way. A big part of the playoff game is traffic and creating those bounces that go your way. If they have a guy that’s their responsibility I have trust in them that they’re going to the best of both. I just ask that they don’t cross in front. Straight on screens are pretty easy on us. It’s the crossing, not only on shots but passes [that’s a problem]. Our guys are really smart about that.”
When in comes to opponents crashing the net, Holtby says defenseman trying to clear the crease can often be counterproductive.
“With today’s rules, you can’t really move a guy out,” he said. “Even in doing that, it almost creates more of a screen because there’s more movement involved. My main thing with our team is just take their sticks away. Deflections and second pucks [rebounds] are more what we rely on the D-men for. I’m there for the first shot. Everyone has their job and we just try to collectively do it as one.”
Capitals regular-season shot blocked total via War on Ice.
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