Shot blocking never has been more prevalent in the NHL than it is today.
The Blackhawks have three of the best shot blockers in defensemen Niklas Hjalmarsson, Brent Seabrook and Johnny Oduya, and goalie Corey Crawford is thankful whenever any of them gets in the way of a puck.
“Definitely, it creates one less chance in front,” Crawford said. “If there’s a potential screen in front maybe we might not see it. It definitely makes a difference when one less puck is coming to the net for sure.”
Hjalmarsson leads the Hawks with 49 blocked shots with Seabrook right behind at 48 and Oduya at 38.
So it shot blocking a skill?
“I wouldn’t say it’s a skill; it’s mostly putting yourself in a position where they might not shoot,” Oduya said.
“If you’re in a good spot maybe they’re going to hold off that shot and try to do something else.
“Obviously there are times when you have to sacrifice yourself and get in the way of that shot.”
Hawks coach Joel Quenneville, a former defenseman, thinks it’s more of an art.
“It’s a willingness to be in the proper position and deny them,” Quenneville said. “Sometimes you don’t even want the guy to shoot, which is the best form of shot blocking.
“It’s a willingness to take one when you know you’re going to feel it. You’ve got the (Shea) Weber’s and some guys in our conference that can pound it pretty good and hard.
“We’ve got some guys on the back end that have been stopping some big ones and it’s been helping our penalty killing.”
Maintaining their league-best 1.79 team goals-against average will require a group effort from the Hawks.
“I think in this league for a team to be at the top in goals against you have to have everybody playing hard defensively, blocking shots, taking away passing lanes,” Corey Crawford said. “Goalies too have to come up with some saves, obviously, but it definitely has to be a team effort.”
Team defense was one area the Hawks definitely needed to improve.
“That was one area we had to address knowing we had to get better,” Joel Quenneville said. “It was an unacceptable rate last year, our goals against and the type of goals we were allowing, be it penalty killing or open side plays, defendable plays that should be prevented.
“Whether it’s an awareness of all five guys on the ice, but you’ve got to commend the defense and the goaltending.”
The more the Hawks keep winning, the bigger their lead gets in the Western Conference, which can pay off down the line.
“It gives you a little bit of breathing room, which is good to have,” Johnny Oduya said. “At the same time teams are going to get better so we have to get better too or else it’s not going to be enough.”
The deeper the Hawks go here without losing can open some possibilities for Joel Quenneville.
“It can help you as you’re going along here in terms of managing your team,” Quenneville said. “It’s not life and death to get in (the playoffs).
“Whether you’re cutting back minutes on top guys, you’re not overexerting your players and certain people. Whether you have the luxury of experimenting as you go along, we’ll see, but we’re not there yet.”
Corey Crawford starts in goal against St. Louis looking to build on his 8-0-3 record, .941 save percentage and 1.50 goals-against average.Copyright © 2013 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.