GLENDALE – Coyotes Head Coach Dave Tippett has a soft spot in his heart for those players charged with the duty of stepping in front of slap shots and bearing the brunt of their wrath.
And he has scars elsewhere to remind him of what they are going through.
"I took a couple of bad ones in the face -- those are the ones that sting you," Tippett said. "Getting it in the hands are tough. But the body? It just stings for awhile and it goes away."
|Boyd Gordon |
Watching Boyd Gordon, Lauri Korpikoski, Derek Morris and others put themselves between a bomb from Nashville's Shea Weber and its intended target brought back less-than-fond memories for Tippett, who used his own body as a pin cushion during his 721-game NHL career.
One game at the Montreal Forum early in his penalty-killing career quickly surges to mind.
"I was watching the pregame skate. Guy LaFleur was out shooting one-timers from his spot on the power play and pounding every one right up underneath the bar," Tippett said. "Well, the first penalty kill comes and I get lined up in front of him. I get out to block the shot and he hits me right square in the toe.
"Later I went to him and said, 'I watched you put 100 pucks under the bar and I step out there and you hit me right in the toe? Thanks.' "
The Coyotes have been credited with 80 blocked shots in 11 games so far in the Stanley Cup Playoffs – Morris leads the way with 29 – and they are sure to jump in from of many more off the sticks of the Los Angeles Kings when the Western Conference Finals begin at Jobing.com Arena on Sunday. The Kings have blocked 82 themselves, and the Washington Capitals have blocked more than 160 already in the postseason.
It's necessary. It's a badge of honor. And it stings like you wouldn't believe, especially with guys like Weber loading up from the point.
"He's got a pretty hard shot and he likes to shoot. A lot. It's not fun," Korpikoski said. "That's why you wear thick pads. It's not the favorite thing to do, but when you're killing penalties, that's what you've got to do.
"Most of it is mental. It's almost easier when you get back out on the ice right away, so you can forget about it. If you sit on the bench, you just feel it. Trainers know it's better to just leave you alone and let you deal with it. You have to remember it's just bumps and bruises."
Unless it's a broken foot, of course. Or toe. Right, Coach?
"First of all, you get mad at the guy who shot it at you," Tippett said, detailing the emotions from the point of impact. "Then you get through the pain and as quick as you can, get refocused on what you have to do. We've got some players who are really willing to pay the price to do that.
"You see Boyd Gordon and Lauri Korpikoski lying down in front of Weber's shot … that's not for the faint of heart, that stuff. That's what it takes to win. Players who do that … there's just a mentality that it's part of their job."
|Photo bt Getty Images. |
It's only one part of the job for Gordon, who ranks third in the League with a 58.7 percent success rate on faceoffs and anchors a checking line with Korpikoski and Taylor Pyatt. Signed as a free agent in the offseason to replace the departed Vernon Fiddler, Gordon has fit Phoenix's system like a glove and been an invaluable pickup that is paying the biggest dividends at the most important time.
"We didn't want to lose Vern … we wanted both of them, actually," Tippett said. "But Boyd has come in and really solidified that role for us. He's great on the faceoffs, a very smart player who reads situations very well and obviously a top penalty killer. He does the little things that are very hard in the game that make you win."
And as good as Mike Smith has been in net for Phoenix, he's the first one credit those willing to lighten the load by laying out in front of him. Nashville had the No. 1 power play in the NHL during the regular season, but the Coyotes killed the last 12 Predators' power plays in the series.
"Blocking shots is important and every year, it's become more important," Gordon said. "If you're going to have an effective penalty kill, you have to have people like we do who are willing to do it. Whatever it takes to keep it out of the net, that's the kind of team we have here."
Gordon had eight goals this year and has scored 35 in his NHL career. But he's made himself invaluable, one bruise at a time.
"If you're not that guy who's going to score a lot, you have to find something to do that you excel at," Gordon said. "It's one of the things I've adapted to and one of the things that have come along in my game."