Sometimes, the best way to prevent a goal is to deflect a soaring puck before it even reaches the goalie's crease. On Thursday the Capitals blocked 25 of the Avalanche's shot attempts at Pheonix Copley in their 4-3 overtime win, continuing their pattern of dominating while getting bodies in the lane.
The effort to redirect pucks is one key to playing solid defense, players said, a way to curb high-percentage chances and protecting the goalie in certain situations.
"Shots from the point, in traffic, can be dangerous - from creating rebounds or finding holes - so obviously it helps when guys are blocking shots," Copley said. "It also shows commitment. As a goalie, that's awesome to see. It makes our job a lot easier when guys are getting in the way of those shots."
While the numbers may be a bit inflated - teams often shoot more when they're down - the correlation between blocked shots and wins has been a trend for Washington.
When the Capitals have blocked 19 or more shots in a game, they're 12-2-1 this season. They've blocked a total of 852, second in the league in the category (Ottawa: 950), mostly behind the outstretched sticks of John Carlson and Michal Kempny, who have 111 and 110, respectively.
They're the only teammates who rank in the top 12 in the NHL for blocked shots (Carlson, tied for seventh, Kempny, tied for 11th), making it even tougher to shoot on the Capitals when the defensive duo is on the ice. But both players downplay the significance of the stat.
"It's a little overstated," said Carlson, who blocked a team-leading six shots against the Avalanche. "There are certainly times when we should be blocking shots and other times when it shouldn't get to that point if you're playing it well. But I would just say that usually, when you're up in the game, the other team is making the push."
"It's just part of our job," added Kempny. "I try to make it easier for our goalies. If I can, I always try to block the shot or catch the puck."
Doing so may be routine in the moment, a common occurrence in a game, but it stands to reason that it could affect a player's psyche.
Kempny was asked if blocking an opponent's attempts to the net can weaken their shot as the game progresses, given the mental effect of being denied good chances. He considered it.
"It's possible," Kempny said. "At the end of the game, if you can create momentum, it can be tough to get a shot through so that can frustrate them."
The Capitals aim to limit the amount of time opponents spend in their defensive zone, hitting guys before they can wind up. But when they get there, and shooting lanes open up, players have to find a way to disrupt paths to the net. And the Capitals done a good job.
"It's something we keep track of in house and believe in," head coach Todd Reirden said of blocked shots. "You have to sacrifice and commit to getting in shot lanes - that's important for us. It's also important that we can play a certain way - a way some other teams can't - and that starts with our physical presence."