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Point-Counterpoint - Shotblocking bad for the game?

Ken Campbell: Good morning, Rory. I was thinking of writing my web column on the New York Rangers and how their insipid penchant for shot-blocking is a blight on the game and will lead us back towards the Dead Puck Era. There was a time when standing in front of a piece of frozen vulcanized rubber coming at you at a high velocity actually meant something. The guys who did it wore their sense of courage like a badge of honor. Now, shot-blocking has become the participation badge of the NHL.

Rory Boylen: Morning, Ken. This will be a tongue-in-cheek piece, right? Because you can’t be serious. What’s new about the Rangers’ style? They’re actually blocking an average of 1.1 fewer shots per game than they did last playoffs. Ever since this topic came up this year and rule changes were being suggested I’ve wanted to bang my head on my desk. It still takes a ton of courage to step in front of a shot. You’ll have to explain it.

KC: Well, let’s see. In Game 1 of the East final, the Devils had 21 shots on goal and had 26 blocked. Is there not something ridiculous about that? Is that basically what success in the NHL has come to these days – collapsing in front of your own net and trying to score a goal or two a game off the rush? I can’t imagine there are too many people outside Gotham City who think that’s even remotely exciting.

RB: These playoffs have been amazing, including the Rangers games. Plus, the other three teams left seem to have found success through offense and transitional play. And let’s not forget the Capitals blocked more shots than the Rangers and lost the series. The Rangers are the exception to what has defined success so far these playoffs. More teams that have been out-blocked have won their series so far.

KC: But the NHL is a copycat league and if the Rangers can win a Cup with this strategy, it will be a green light for everyone else to do it.

RB: You think the GMs around the league will completely ignore what Los Angeles, Phoenix and New Jersey have done? No freakin’ way. This is not as much a copycat league as it used to be. When Anaheim won, brute force was going to be the way to win...until Detroit won with puck possession. When Chicago won two years later, the idea you needed a top-notch goalie went out the window. Now we’ve had back-to-back years with Vezina finalists playing the key roles. There is no single one way to win anymore, so let’s not blow a gasket because one is having success with shot-blocking.

KC: My concern is that after years of exciting, compelling hockey after the lockout, the NHL is going back to a situation where the pendulum has swung in a big way back to defense over offense. The more we laud teams that do it and the more they’re rewarded, the more likely this is going to become the standard of play.

RB: But average blocked shots per game are down from last year.

KC:
Did you ever pause to think that blocked shots are down because teams are less inclined to shoot because they realize the chances of it reaching the net are about as good as Snookie joining a nunnery? No wonder blocked shots are down. It’s pretty difficult to block a shot when all your opponent is doing is passing the puck around the perimeter. Now instead of launching bombs from the point, they’re working it in deep and hoping to get the puck up and over the mass of humanity in front of the net. Oh, the excitement!

RB: Explain to me then how the Devils and Kings have been so successful despite the fact they don’t block many shots. Or how Phoenix is winning despite allowing the most shots against.

KC: Because they play a different style of game, one that isn’t predicated upon collapsing in front of the net. But for that type of game you have to have the kind of dynamic personnel that can create offense and score goals. It’s much more difficult to do that than to put together a bunch of hard-working, lunch-bucket guys and ask them to constantly put themselves in the way of shots. This is a league in which teams have always chosen the path of least resistance, so which one do you think they’re going to take?

RB: Well, none of this logic makes sense to me, but I’ll allow you to have your voice and say go for it. We’ll let our readers decide.

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