Vancouver is 28th in the NHL in blocked shots; is this good or bad?

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.

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16 comments

  1. ATC
    January 4, 2012

    I think you want to look at blocked shots as a percentage of all attempted shots as an indicator of a team’s willingness to pay the price. Can we do that? How do the Canucks measure up?

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  2. Sarah
    January 4, 2012

    Interesting posts. Stats, of course, are so funny because they often indicate so very little but are taken to mean so much.

    I wonder if this is just going to be used as yet another way to say the Canucks aren’t tough enough, Canadian enough, etc. I noticed in the Province today [A31] there was a picture of a Boston fan with a sign that said “Real Canadians love Bruins Hockey.” I’m guessing people of such a sentiment will be more than happy to trot out such a stat to further this viewpoint…

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  3. Randy
    January 4, 2012

    Like every one of these advanced (and not advanced) stats, it seems lookng at one in isolation can be interpreted to mean anything you want.

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  4. J21
    January 4, 2012

    I don’t think the argument is a actually a saw-off — I think the statheads are closer to truth simply because they put some thought into their approach rather than parroting tired conventional wisdom — but even if it were, I would lean against the idea of blocking too many shots. Surest way to get injured. If preventing one goals means missing five or ten games, I’m not sure it’s worth it.

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    • Harrison Mooney
      January 4, 2012

      Yeah, like I said, I lean towards a lack of blocked shots being a good thing. But there’s a negative aspect to it as well.

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  5. Metaxa
    January 4, 2012

    Its part of the plan.

    sorry…The Plan©.

    We would lead the league in tipped shots and/or shots allowed from far away and outside…if anyone counted those.

    Why hurt yourself in the first 50 games when it is the last 16 that count.

    notice also, we don’t see those hip checks or crushing blue line hits either…yet.

    Sit, children, and watch as The Plan unfolds.

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  6. akidd
    January 4, 2012

    if you need any more help finging topics…the canucks are number one in the league in missed shots. that could be a result of picking corners or that bieksa is nowhere near as accurate as erhoff was. or it’s simply a result of their puck possesion generating more shots towards the net in general. or it could mean nothing at all.

    as for shot-blocking, i won’t paste my post from iwtg vs. the sharks that introduces the ‘ryan johnson principle,’ and gives credit to gillis for crunching the numbers to deduce that the gain isn’t worth the pain. but i will mention that metaxa was on this topic. first.

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  7. Tengeresz
    January 4, 2012

    Mmmmm. Cookies. I like cookies.

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  8. Geko
    January 4, 2012

    Didn’t Garret/Shorthouse comment on this the other night? The Canucks tend to tip a lot of shots wide or out of play. A tip wide or out of play does not count as a blocked shot. So, not only is the stat misleading but also incomplete.

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  9. invisibleairwaves
    January 4, 2012

    The difference in defensive strategies has to be taken into account here. Some teams prefer to put their defencemen out into the shooting lanes to block shots, while others prefer to keep them closer to the net to clear the crease and jump on rebounds. Teams that do the former are obviously going to have higher blocked shot totals than teams that do the latter; it doesn’t mean they’re better or worse defensively, it just means they play a different system.

    I think we’re better off just ignoring blocked shot totals as a measure of a team’s quality. Given the number of good teams with lots of blocked shots and bad teams with few blocked shots, it doesn’t seem to make any more sense to create a narrative based around “possession” than it does to make a narrative based around “willingness to sacrifice”. There’s obviously many other factors in play.

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  10. The Bookie
    January 4, 2012

    When I think of blocked shots I thnk of Montreal’s cinderella run to the conference finals two years ago, where they really had no place being. Didn’t they have something like 2 or 3 times more blocked shots than any other team in the playoffs that year? Halak gets all the credit for that one and not to say he didn’t play amazingly, but I think the b.s. (hehe) stat got overlooked.

    Either way, I think it should be reserved as a desperation move, both short-term and long-term. If you just don’t have a big offensive or defensive team and a low percentage of puck possession, you do what you can to win I guess.

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  11. Geoff-C-
    January 4, 2012

    I think that another part of the story is that we have a pretty good set of goaltenders. Trying to block shots can lead to screens or deflections. If a player is shooting from a spot where our goalies will make the save 99 out of a 100 times when he can see it coming why block it? Even if they can block the shot 90% of the time those are still worse odds then letting him take the shot when the goalie can see it, and it probably hurts less too.

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  12. Ginger
    January 4, 2012

    37 pieces of flair is ridiculous. I had to say it.

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  13. tCL of OTP
    January 5, 2012

    Wow, 13 posts and not one blaming Luongo. Allow me:

    Clearly this is evidence of the team in front of him having given up on Luongo. They’re not willing to sacrifice themselves to help this notorious snow-angel-maker. And if guys like Kesler or the Sedins aren’t willing to block shots, how does set a good example for blue-chip guys like Hodgson? So let’s put Hodgson out there to get in the way of more shots for this team.

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  14. Manservant Hecubis
    January 5, 2012

    I would like to add further confusion to this discussion by presenting the post-lockout shot blocking rankings of the Stanley Cup championship teams.

    2006- Carolina. 1st
    2007- Anaheim. 30th
    2008- Detroit. 30th
    2009- Pittsburgh, 4th
    2010- Chicago, 17th
    2011- Boston, 15th

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    • Harrison Mooney
      January 5, 2012

      Wow. Confusion just leveled up.

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