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Blocked Shots a True Art Form for Stars

by Steve Hunt / Dallas Stars

One hundred eighty eight might seem like an odd number to be significant for a hockey team but that figure represents how many shots the Dallas Stars have blocked through their first 11 games or opening month of the 2011-12 NHL regular season.

Defenseman Nicklas Grossman is the leader in the clubhouse with 25 blocks but fellow blue liner Stephane Robidas is right behind him with 20 and Trevor Daley is third with 19 blocked shots thus far.

It’s a matter of simple physics really, putting one’s body in the path of a puck headed to the net, sort of the ultimate case of taking one for the team. However, at least one member of the Stars doesn’t exactly see blocked shots in that fashion.

“I don’t think it’s taking one for the team. It’s turned into part of the game where defensemen have to do it nowadays,” Daley said. “The game’s moving so quick and they don’t allow you to clutch and grab like you used to. You know for sure that in order to score, the puck’s coming toward the net. That’s one thing you do know out there. It’s good to stay in those lanes.”

Last year, Dallas was led in blocked shots by veteran blue liner Karlis Skrastins, who had 139 blocks. The year before, Skrastins or “Skratch” as he was known before his untimely passing in a plane crash this summer, was second on the Stars with 156 blocked shots and those who skated alongside him remember his proficiency for getting in front of pucks during his two seasons in Dallas.

“We had one of the best guys in the league last year with Skrastins. You just look at him is the best thing. You saw how he went into everything. He was relentless going after it,” Grossman said. “He would go down to his knees, take it in the chest and you saw no fear in him. That’s what you learn. You’d ask him and he’d kind of laugh. He was humble about it and said it was no big deal but he was very good at it. I just tried to look at him. We’ve got lots of guys who block shots. You just try to be where the pucks are coming from and get in front of them.”

While it might be something of an unheralded stat and a number that’s rarely talked about, the true measure of how gritty and tough a team is might just be told in how many blocked shots they have or don’t have.

Stars head coach Glen Gulutzan might be relatively new to the coaching ranks of the National Hockey League, but he’s been coaching hockey long enough to know that a team that blocks a lot of shots is putting themselves in a great position to be successful.

“We have to block shots. You look at the good teams you go way back to even 2004 when Tampa Bay won the Cup how many shots they blocked,” Gulutzan said. “You have to block shots now. Every team does. The good teams do. It’s part of a good team’s mentality. We’ve been blocking a lot of shots lately. That means we’re around the net and getting in lanes, so that’s a good thing.”

Through their first 11 games of the season, the Stars have an 8-3-0 record, a truly solid start to the Glen Gulutzan era here in Dallas. A big reason for the club’s success thus far has been how well the team has performed on the penalty kill and blocked shots are a big contributing factor to how well the Dallas PK has fared thus far.

But blocked shots aren’t just important for a team when they happen to be shorthanded, they are also important during 5-on-5 play. For a guy in Gulutzan who when he was hired said he wanted this year’s Dallas Stars to be harder to play against, judging by how many blocked shots they have and how well their PK has performed so far, this year’s Stars are already cementing a reputation as one of the tougher clubs to play against in the NHL. Sure, there might not be a league award for whoever leads the NHL in blocked shots, but a greater award could await teams that block shots, namely the playoffs. And for a Stars team that hasn’t tasted postseason hockey in three consecutive years, the early returns are definitely favorable in that respect.

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