Every now and then, as I thumb through the Canucks’ individual and team stats, I come across one that really jumps out at me. Today, I was struck by the team’s blocked shot totals: as of Wednesday, January 4, the Canucks have gotten in front of 463 pucks this season, good for 28th in the NHL.
Blocked shots have become something of a controversial stat of late. The old-school hockey minds will tell you that a team with a low total of blocked shots is a team unwilling to get into shooting lanes and help their goaltender. Meanwhile, the advanced statheads have begun to counter the claim, explaining that blocked shots are more an indication of possession than the quality of team help defense: If you routinely routinely out-possess and outshoot your opponent, as the Canucks do, you will simply have far fewer shots to block.
And so, at the end of the game, when one team has 21 blocked shots and the other has 4, some will claim one team was working harder than the other, that one team was more willing to “pay the price”. However, others will say that this “hard-working” team might have gotten a better deal on “the price” if they’d moved the puck up the ice with a little more flair.
(You can always use more flair. The bare minimum of flair is hardly acceptable.)
So which is it? Truth is, while you can expect to hear both sides of this stat presented as the only side more than a few times in 2012, it’s both.
Blocked shots are neither wholly good nor wholly bad. Take a look at the category. It’s a mess.
The top five teams in the NHL in blocked shots: Minnesota, Montreal, Carolina, Long Island, and Toronto. None of these are good teams, despite what Minnesota’s current record and fans tell you and, apart from the Wild, each is defensively abysmal. (The Wild have a weak defensive top-six, but their commitment to team defense is strong.)
Clearly, in these cases, the blocked shots really are an indication that the team can’t get the puck out of their zone.
But blocked shots aren’t just an inverted pyramid of team power rankings. The 6th and 7th-ranked teams in blocked shots are the New York Rangers and the San Jose Sharks.
For further confusion, check out the bottom five teams in the category: Boston, Florida, Vancouver, New Jersey, and Columbus. This right here is what we like to call a “mixed bag”. Boston and Vancouver remain elite teams — perhaps the elite teams — in their respective conferences. It’s never shameful to be next to Boston in a team statistic. They’re quite good.
Being next to Columbus, however, definitely is. They’re quite bad. The worst team in the NHL is also the worst team at blocking shots and that, my friends, is a correlation we can’t ignore.
All of this is to say that the stat isn’t quite as simplistic as the old-school or the new-school would have you believe, especially when it comes to the Canucks.
It doesn’t happen all that often, but over the past two seasons, we’ve seen the Canucks lose a handful of games in which they outshot their opponents but couldn’t score. The common factor in many of these losses was the opponent’s commitment to blocking shots. For instance, in two consecutive shutout losses to the New York Rangers (1-0 last season, 4-0 this season), the Canucks have been out-blocked 47 to 20. Possession aside, one team helped their goalie more than the other and that turned out to be the difference.
Considering the shot totals, you could say it was simply bad luck (and many did), but luck, like a chocolate chip cookie, tends to turn out far better when you make it yourself. At times, the Canucks can be far less committed to shot prevention than to shot creation, and it can be a problem. The goaltender gets blamed when these shots get by him but, in some cases, they should never have even gotten to him.
In short, this stat isn’t something to look at and panic. It is, however, something to look at.Tags: blocked shots, Canucks, mild concerns