Defenseman Ruslan Salei leads all Panthers players with 58 blocked shots on the season. (Getty Images)
By Dave Joseph for floridapanthers.com
Tomas Vokoun calls it a skill.
In fact, the art of blocking a shot, said GM and coach Jacques Martin, shows a “great commitment.” And whether it comes from “positioning or sometimes simple desperation,” according to assistant coach Mike Kitchen, it can sometimes be the difference between winning and losing.
“Ultimately, you have to block shots if you want to win a hockey game,” Vokoun said.
Defenseman Ruslan Salei, who entered Sunday’s game in Chicago leading the Panthers with 58 blocks and sat 22nd in the entire league in that category (15 more than defenseman Bryan Allen), says positioning is important.
“Do I really try to block every shot?” asked Salei. “Probably not. First of all you try to put yourself in a position so you can block shots to avoid scoring chances. If the shot isn’t blocked, you put yourself in a position to eventually get to the puck.”
Allen says it’s about “picking your shots.”
“You can’t be doing it all the time,” said one of the Panthers’ alternate captains. “You’ve got to know when to go down all the way, when to go down half way. Every situation is different. Sometimes you’re out-numbered in front of the net and you can’t always push guys out of the way to help (Vokoun), so you might as well try to block the shot.”
Kitchen, who works with the Panther defensemen and also its penalty killing unit, believes there are certain circumstances that dictate what players should do.
“If you notice us our forwards will block up high, which goalies really don’t mind,” Kitchen said. “If it’s a one-timer (up high), it’s pretty tough to block. You might as well block the man out and let the goalie see the puck. However, if it’s a wrist shot, I want our ‘D’ to come out and block the shot. Then the play is dead, (the puck) doesn’t get to the net. There’s no rebound. Nothing.”
Gregory Campbell, who leads all Panther forwards with 22 blocks, says anticipation is key.
“Guys are so good now, a lot of times they’ll fake a shot and if you go down too early they’ll just walk around you. So you have to make sure it’s a clear (shot) or, if you go down, you can get back up and not lose your position.”
Martin, who preached the importance of blocking shots earlier this season, sees advantages to preventing the puck from getting to the net.
“You look at the teams that do well, they block a lot of shots,” he said. “A lot of it has to do with being in the angle. A lot of the time when the puck gets to the net, they don’t score on the shot but they get a chance with the rebound. A lot of teams now, because of the expanded end zone, they collapse in the defensive zone. When they collapse they block shots because they’ve out-numbered you in front of the net. If there’s a rebound, they get those pucks. But if you block shots, you get the puck out of the zone quicker and you counter attack.”
Vokoun, who faced 22 shots in Sunday’s first period against the Blackhawks and had four others blocked by his teammates, said everything depends on the situation.
“Sometimes it’s a good thing to have a blocked shot, sometimes it’s a bad thing,” he said. “If there’s a shot from the outside, it’s an easy shot and there’s no reason to block it, then it’s better to not block it because then it might deflect and the shot may change direction.
“But most times, especially on a penalty kill, blocking shots is a skill that can help a lot.”