While the San Jose Sharks are leading the National Hockey League in average shots per game (38.2), they’ve also allowed the second fewest shots per game (25.2). One of the reasons why is Sharks skaters aren’t afraid to put their bodies in front of pucks.
Center Joe Pavelski
ranks fourth among all NHL forwards in shots blocked with 17. Stay-at-home defensemen Brad Lukowich (27) and Marc Edouard-Vlasic (26) lead their fellow blueliners.
Pavelski said he has so many blocks this year because he’s often used to defend the opponent’s power play.
“I play a lot on the penalty kill and that’s a lot of it,” Pavelski said. “You have to block shots at times.”
A blocked shot not only stops a chance from reaching the goaltender, but that act can also create offensive opportunities.
“It can lead to turnovers or transition shots on our end,” Lukowich said. “A blocked shot can be a momentum changer.”
Even with shin pads and padded pants, no one – at any level – wants to get hit with a puck zipping at high speeds towards them. Successful shot blockers take pride in what they do. They also have one important characteristic: a commitment.
“It was something I was taught in junior hockey,” Lukowich said.
When opponents show the fortitude to block a shot, this makes a shooter think twice about winding up.
“They see someone on the other side and the focus is on them to get their shot through,” Lukowich said. “It puts pressure on their D-men and sometimes they don’t take the shot.”
“You hope if you’re in the right position it deters them,” Pavelski said.
Some shooters feel that even if they hit the shot blocker enough, it may deter the defender from getting in front the next time. That’s not the case with the Sharks players.
“It’s part of the game,” Lukowich said. “You just get out there and he’ll care if you block three or four in a row.”
“You’re padded up pretty good and when you do it right, you don’t get hurt,” Pavelski said. “But if you get hit in the ankle or the right spot, it doesn’t feel great. You don’t want to have to be in that position.”
Today’s NHLers are padded fairly well, but that’s not to say there isn’t a bit of pain if you get hit in the wrong spot, such as between the bottom of the shin guard and the bottom of the skate boot. That part is often exposed.
Lukowich said he’d rather block wrist shots because they’re not as painful as the slap shot. He also said that forcing an opponent to use the wrister, as opposed to a snap or slap shot, is a sign of good defensive fundamentals. “When they wrist it,” Lukowich said, “it’s because the forward did a good job of getting in the lane.”
“If I’m in the lane and don’t block it, the goal is my fault,” Lukowich said. “The goaltenders don’t want me in the way and then ‘ole’ (the bullfighter moving his cape away from him as the charging bull rushes towards him) at the last second. To move a little and let it deflect off you is the worst thing to do.”
When Lukowich played for Dallas, he said the Stars practiced blocking shots.
“We used to freeze green tennis ball and would get in front of them to get practice,” Lukowich said. “We had a big competition. It was fun.”
The Sharks don’t use the frozen tennis ball drill, but they’re getting results.
Coach Todd McLellan will rest Jonathan Cheechoo for one more game. Cheechoo, who’s been out for the last three games with an upper body injury, would be playing tonight if it was a playoff game, McLellan said. NEXT GAME
The Sharks will play hosts to Calgary Thursday at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available at www.hppavilion.com and the HP Pavilion Ticket Office.