Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Panesar and Moustakas: Is Shot Blocking Really a Problem in the NHL?

New Jersey Devils' Stephen Gionta leaps into the air as New York Rangers' Ruslan Fedotenko falls in an attempt to block a shot from the point in front of Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist during second period of Game 1 of the NHL Eastern Conference Finals hockey playoffs at Madison Square Garden in New York, May 14, 2012.
With one half of the Stanley Cup final now decided, hockey fans must come to grips with the fact that the Eastern representative will either be the historically defensive minded New Jersey Devils or the architects of post-lockout, shot-blocking defense, the New York Rangers.

But, really, is shot blocking the scourge it has been made out to be? Your new favorite debate duo return to discuss.

Kamal Panesar: So, if you haven’t heard by now, there is a new demon in the NHL. Something more vile than the neutral zone trap, and more stifling than the clutching and grabbing that used to be. Now, apparently, blocking shots is the end of the league.

Ummm, really?

According to some media types, shot blocking is the new bane of the NHL. The ‘new’ trap, if you will. Stifling offense, making life easier for goaltenders, and keeping the score low. For more on this, you can read Ken Campbell’s piece from The Hockey News, or Stu Hackel’s piece from Sports Illustrated on the matter.

To be honest, I think this is much ado about nothing. Shot blocking is a skill, and one that has developed considerably over the last 20 years. But why is that a bad thing? Is progress bad? I thought it was a good thing. But I guess purists who think the game should continue to be ‘the way it used to be’, probably also rallied against removing the red line!

Louis Moustakas: After Guy Boucher's horrid defensive system, blocking shots is the new scourge being released upon the league.

Blocking shots takes both courage and skill. It is an often painful sacrifice that can, at times, produce some pretty exciting defensive plays. How this even gets compared to the Dead Puck Era is beyond me.

The real issue here is that the only thing equated with entertainment value is goal scoring. Tight games, defense and goaltending seem secondary in the minds of many in the media. Apparently, individuals who have covered the game for years, if not decades, lack the ability to appreciate the intricacies of the game and want nothing but more scoring chances, more goals.

Because, you know, aren't we all pinning for those 8-7 games where the netminders — unaccustomed to playing butterfly style — got beat on the low, far-side all the time? Thrilling stuff. Of course, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh provided an exciting series, but it was exciting due to its unusual nature. I'm not sure I would be thrilled watching teams forget how to play defense for 82 games a year.

In the end, no one is helping promote the game by constantly correlating a decrease in scoring with a lack of entertainment. The sport has so much more to offer than just goals. Progress and change will always arise over time. The high-offense days are the 80s are over. Deal with it.

Kamal Panesar: Well said, my friend!

To be honest, I find scoring chances to be even more exciting than actual goals scored. Sure, you get the payoff with a goal. That release from tension and cheer for your team. But, when there are scoring chances, and bodies are flying left and right to dive in front of 100 mph shots, while goaltenders are forced to make acrobatic saves, and while opposing forwards barrel towards the crease in hope of a tip or rebound, well, I find that to be pretty exciting.

Especially in the playoffs.

For me, what makes the playoffs so intense to watch, is the feeling that any goal could be the winning goal. Any shot, no matter how good or bad, could be the back breaker and, moreover, the series winner. So when a team is pressing on the attack and is being met with shot blocking, I find it exciting.

Yes, the player’s have Kevlar-like padding that makes shot blocking that much easier, but let’s be honest here. Yes, the Rangers (mostly) to a man, block shots. But it still took them seven games to make it through the first and second rounds, respectively. That, to me, means that their system is not bullet proof. There are ways around and through the shot blocking maze and if a team chooses to block shots like a brick wall, then your coaching staff better figure out a way around it or find a new job.

Penalize or restrict shot blocking? Ridiculous.

Louis Moustakas: We are quite in agreement this time, aren't we?

And you make a good point about the excitement of each goal, the feeling each one could be a winner or a backbreaker. To me, that every shot, every pass and every play can become a pivotal moment is what makes the post-season such a delight.

As for legislating against shot blocking, that is outright silly. It is a problem only exaggerated by media types — who, poor them, have the painful job of covering the playoffs. When various rule changes are proposed, we often hear talk of how it is important to maintain the physical, gritty element of the game. Blocking a 100 MPH shot seems pretty gritty and physical to me.

Kamal Panesar: I couldn’t agree more. The bottom line here is that by talking about legislating against shot blocking, certain media types are going down the road of “punishing” players, so to speak, for a skill. Because let’s be honest here, great equipment or not, shot blocking takes skill.

So, just like when the calls to no longer allow goaltenders to handle the puck behind the net came to the forefront, you are talking about penalizing individuals who have a certain skill.

I’ve never been a fan of that. With the goalie issue, it’s not every goaltender in the league who can play the puck they way Martin Brodeur can, so why penalize him for that exceptional skill he has? To me, this is the same argument about legislating against blocking shots. The players who can and do block shots on a regular basis, generally, possess a higher skill level in this department than your average player.

Just ask Josh Gorges.

Think about Gorges not being allowed to block shots. Wouldn’t that take a huge part of his game away, thus making him a lesser player? I think so and, despite what some say, I still think that not every player in the league can block shots.

At least not with the same efficiency.


What about you? Do you think shot blocking has negatively impacted the 2012 playoffs?

---
Kamal is a freelance writer, Senior Writer/Editor-in-Chief of HabsAddict.com, Montreal Canadiens Blogger on Hockeybuzz.com and featured columnist on PowerScoutHockey.com. Kamal is also a regular on-air contributor on TSN 990, CJAD, and LiveSport New Zealand.

Follow Kamal on Facebook and Twitter

Louis is an Associate Editor and Senior Writer at HabsAddict.com. Born in Chicago, Louis grew up in Quebec City where he earned Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration from Université Laval. He is also an occasional guest on CKCU's Red Zone program.

Find him on twitter @LouisMoustakas

(Photo by Mike Segar/Reuters)

4 comments:

I dont think a zone defense penalty would be dumb and dismissed outright? It may have its place (as it does in NBA, as a rare call)?
What is matter with high scoring games? I think are great and loved 80s hockey?
We dont need Lacross scoring rates, but no soccer snoozefests neither.
With kevlar head to toe on skaters, a decrease in size of goalie equipment (back to 80s size) should be comenserate (sp?).
Removal of trapazoid who allow for more goals, as most goalies overestimate their puck handling skils.

Officials should have some integrity (not the joke they are now)and not flip flop at whim of Bettman and his cronies. Put whistle in back pocket near end of game is just amaturish and not seen in any other sport in world is it?

@Anon

Thanks for reading!

There is nothing wrong with scoring, but I contend that there is something severely wrong when the only thing we equate with entertainment is scoring.

Even if the recent 5 (or so) goal per game average persists, I see nothing wrong with that. If the flow of the game, the scoring chances and the skilled plays remain present, why should the amount of goals become the end-all in deciding entertainment value?

Are we that simple as hockey fans? Football fans often seem to appreciate strong defensive games. Soccer fans see the excitement in the rarity of goals. Must we really have 10 goals to be amused?

As for the officials and the trapezoid, I fully agree... but that is another conversation altogether!

Anon1

Louis;
your article was well done and i am being a bit overly critical.
For sure scoring aint end all be all, but it seems Jacques Martin has snuck behind every bench and plugged in his style of play and a tweek or 2 might help is all open it up a bit.
And without a Canadian team in the hunt, i am very biased and would rather watch the Blue Jays and for sure put WHL junior playoffs as easily more entertaining than NHL has been this spring. LIkely due to a less structured defensive system; but end to end , hard hitting games is what i love.

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