In recent years, my Edmonton Oilers have been among the best in the league in faceoffs and shot-blocking. This has led to my brother screaming, "Why can't they be good at like goal-scoring, or maybe winning for a change?"
Everyone marvels at how great they are at blocking shots and lauds players for making gritty, tough, and passionate plays—qualities we absolutely love in the athletes we cheer for—but I had never given much thought to shot blocking until now.
On the surface, it's basic logic: If the puck doesn't make it to the net, then it can't get in the net. It keeps your goalie from making a save. On the penalty kill, I find shot blocking to be the most valuable.
Most shot blocking skills also double as pass blocking/deflecting skills. It can take the offense right out of their rhythm, causing them to continually look for different options, keeping them out of a comfort zone. Also, every now and then, you get that great block that clears the puck out of the zone.
The biggest downside (especially for the Oilers) is the likelihood of injury. Just about every game I've seen, an Oiler has blocked a shot, winced in pain, limped around a bit, and struggled to get to the bench. Not only is there the possibility of a serious injury, but it also leads to a five-on-four as the injured shot blocker can't play as effectively as he should.
The other obvious danger is deflecting it past your own goalie. Of course the Oilers take great strides to block incoming shots correctly, but it's bound to happen at some point. When the puck takes a bounce off a player, the goalie doesn't know where it's heading and it ends up in the net.
The backbreaking shot-block play is when it's a clean block, but the blocker loses the puck in their skates or equipment, or just can't find the puck. Invariably, the offensive player finds it before the defensive player or goalie does and pots it for the goal. This play happens probably once a week and it absolutely sucks because it's always a luck play. The offensive player just happened to find the puck before the defensive player and that's why it hurts so much to see.
I love that Steve Staios, Ethan Moreau, and Marty Reasoner care so much that they will put their body in front of a solid piece of rubber coming at them at about 90 mph.
I do believe that shot blocking is an important part of a good penalty kill, but in a five-on-five situation, how much good does it do compared to the amount of confusion it causes on the ice?
People say the Oilers injury problems are partly due to the lack of a proper enforcer, which I'm not dismissing, but there have been an abnormal amount of leg injuries to the Oilers in the past couple of years. Captain Ethan Moreau has played 32 games in the past two seasons because of a broken ankle and a fractured leg.
Why can't they just be good at scoring goals?