Will the Sedins become shot-blocking superstars under John Tortorella?

Considering the topic and title of this post, I had originally hoped to make the header a photo of one of the Sedins blocking a shot. I may as well have been after a photo of Bigfoot blocking a shot. It would appear it’s a pretty tough picture to get.

In fact, a search for “Sedin” and “blocks a shot” at both the Getty and AP Images databases turns up just one pertinent result.

(Unsurprisingly, the photo was snapped by the great Jeff Vinnick. Of course it would take one of the best photographers in sports to capture the white whale of images. It doesn’t work as a header, unfortunately. If you try to cut it down to this blog’s size requirements, you either lose Daniel Sedin’s head or the puck, and for the sake of visual context, I’d say both are important. Anyway, I digress.)

The point is, under Alain Vigneault, the Sedins didn’t block very many shots. During the shortened 2013 campaign, Henrik blocked 9, and Daniel blocked just 7. The year prior, a full season, Henrik blocked 17 to Daniel’s 15, the fewest of any Canuck to play 60 games. In total during Alain Vigneault era, the Sedins have blocked just 189 shots over seven regular seasons (Henrik 106, Daniel 83); for comparison, Ryan Kesler blocked 188 shots, just one fewer, in his last two seasons alone. In other words, it’s not really the Sedins’ thing.

But you may have heard that John Tortorella intends to make it their thing.

Granted, we’ve known this was coming for awhile, and there’s been sort of a mixed response to the news that Tortorella expects the Sedins to get down, and not just to the funky, funky, funky groove.

On the one hand, there was a sense that Vigneault was a little too nice to the Sedins (what with all those offensive zone starts designed to maximize their best gifts and the lack of penalty kill shifts, so as to keep them fresh for those zone starts). The Tortorella era signals the end to what Tony Gallagher, and unfortunately, now others, have been calling the “country club atmosphere”. But on the other hand, there’s an alarming correlation between shot blocking and bone breaking, and if the Sedins provide further evidence to this correlation, their offensive output, which is pretty damn valuable, will likely suffer. It could also give more evidence to the similarly strong correlation between shot-blocking and losing.)

It would appear that the latter concern is one that John Tortorella doesn’t share, however, and not just because if one Sedin gets hurt he has a spare. On Wednesday, he explained his obsession with shot blocking. From NHL.com:

“What I am talking about is creating a culture and an identity,” Tortorella said. “I believe it can be done within here, and again, it’s not about going out there and brawling. It’s about little things, protecting a puck, eating a puck on the wall when you can’t get it out instead of turning it over. Those are all little details we’ll go over and I think that’s how you develop it. Blocking shots, I know that just lights a fire — you just play defense because you block shots — but blocking shots develops a culture, and when you have a Sedin blocking a shot, watch what the bench does. It’s 10-feet tall. All those little things help develop who you are as a team.”

Apart from instances where one of the Sedin breaks a bone in his foot and hobbles to the bench in abject pain, which one assumes probably won’t make said bench feel 10 feet tall, I guess I can get behind this.

While I would differ on the aforementioned country club thing, admittedly, a two-tier structure has developed in Vancouver over time. Basically, you’ve got the Sedins, who do their thing, and then you’ve got the other forward lines behind them, who do a completely different thing. And I could see how Tortorella might feel that the best way to create a new culture is to break up that mindset and ensure a full buy-in with everyone on equal footing (or hunched over in equal pain).

All that said, however, don’t expect the Sedins to suddenly find themselves blocking two shots a game because John Tortorella’s in town. The Sedins may not have blocked a lot of shots under Vigneault, but the explanation isn’t as simple as “they didn’t have to” or “they avoided it”. It’s just a lot harder to block shots when you have possession of the puck in the offensive zone all game. Block a lot of shots and you’re probably losing.

Thus, so long as the Sedins’ offensive dominance continues, Tortorella will likely be feeding them a steady diet of offensive zone starts, much like he did for his top line in New York, and that means the twins will probably continue to spend the bulk of their time away from shot-blocking situations.

Heck, they may be even more motivated to do so now that they know the pain they’re expected to endure if they don’t.

14 comments

  1. Neil B
    September 12, 2013

    So Harrison, what you’re basically saying is that the whole ‘the Sedins will be blocking shots’ thing is less Torts trying to create a different team identity and more Torts telling the boys “play well or I will hurt you” in his Boston tough-guy voice?

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  2. The Habinator
    September 12, 2013

    Mthere..r Harrison M, Yours truly here, The Habinator, formerly from the Puck Daddy site..I am unable to get thru to the site for Three days now..Imagine the multitude of my hordes of fans wondering where I am…Seriously, I cant even E Mail the site anymore..And the one time I was able to, my “Post” wouldnt go thru…Can you please advise Greg W there is a problem

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  3. akidd
    September 12, 2013

    i think i get tortorella’s point. pragmatically, sure, you want the sedins to use their energy scoring goals, rather than breaking bones and killing penalties. but maybe that kind of calculated strategy has its limits. maybe if canuck fans want to see the sedins more dominant in playoff hockey, they sedins’ll have to hone those skills and instincts during the regular season.

    i really don’t know. but as cunning as o-zone starts for offensive-minded players may be there might be something to having a player earn those forays into the offensive zone by winning the puck in the defensive zone. plus in a league where if a player wants to earn the big bucks he’d better put up some points giving every player a more equal opportunity to put some points might help the team concept.

    i’ve got some reasons to be sceptical of some of tortorella’s policies(the ny press seems to be breathing a big sigh of relief that the shot-blocking era is over) but the reality is that whatever the strategy was for the canucks the last two seasons it clearly didn’t work out too well so the least fans can do is to try and be a little patient this year while they the canucks try something else. personally, i’ll do my best to stifle the groans(my best probably won’t be very good but whatevs:)

    and speaking of AV in NY, how about those, “clean slate, grab it” t-shirts? grab what? the slate? maybe burrows helped him out with the wording. but i like Av’s pep talk to brad richards–”I don’t know what happened before. i wasn’t here. i don’t care.” smart. might have to pull a bit for the rangers this year. i do like AV’s stye.

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  4. Brent
    September 12, 2013

    Certainly not into them breaking bones, but would like to see them on the penalty kill occasionally, Never did understand that aspect of AV’s coaching. And if they are, that will mean a certain amount of shot blocking.

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  5. Amor de Cosmos
    September 12, 2013

    Wait up. If shot blocking is necessary shouldn’t the players who do it be good at it? Maybe the Sedins aren’t, and maybe that’s why AV rarely asked them to block shots.

    Whenever Henrik and Daniel are in their own end of the ice, I start to get fidgety and uncomfortable. Generally good things don’t happen for the Nux when they spend much time there, or that’s been my observation. Sedins blocking more shots = more time behind their blueline. Nope, don’t like that equation at all.

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  6. PB
    September 12, 2013

    The whole Sedin shot-blocking thing has always struck me as being idiotic. The best shot blockers I can think of in the recent past here have been guys like Johnson, Malhotra, Burrows, Kesler, maybe a couple of the lesser lights. With the exception of Malhotra and Burrows who were pretty good at it, Johnson — who was fearless — got injured over and over again and given Kesler’s injury woes (including shot-blocking-bone-breaking) this seems like a really stupid tactic to force your skill players into.

    And for all of Tortorella’s machismo, I can’t imagine the ownership is going to want to spend all that cash on top line players to block shots. You know what else makes the bench 10 feet tall? Scoring goals.

    The Sedins aren’t nameless red shirts you can sacrifice on away missions to San Jose.

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    • Daniel Wagner
      September 12, 2013

      It’s not about asking the Sedins to become elite shot blockers. It’s about asking them to block shots when the opportunity presents itself. I honestly don’t think it’s that big a deal.

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      • PB
        September 12, 2013

        The only reason it’s a big deal (which I agree it shouldn’t be) is because Tortorella goes out of his way to mention it. As you say, part of the reason they may not have blocked that many shots historically is because they’re not necessarily in the position to be doing so, not because they’re shying away from challenging the points, but more so (from what I recall) from the fact that they tend to give up more goals against in transition.

        Perhaps Tortorella is trying to send a message to the team but I’m not sure that the Sedins have to prove anything to anyone at this point. A quick scan of the shot-blocking stats from last year shows 6 Canucks in the top 200, all of them D’s (with Edler tops at 41); the top forward is Chris Higgins around 315. So I suppose my question is why all the focus on shot blocking at all (and again Tortorella’s the one who’s brought this up repeatedly in press conferences)? Is that the style he intends to install here? That’s not what he played in TB where he had very different personnel than in NY. You are saying that it’s not a big deal to ask them to block a shot — but is there any indication that they’ve gone out of their way to avoid doing so? Their lack of shot blocking seems more indicative of their style of play than anything.

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        • Daniel Wagner
          September 12, 2013

          Keep in mind, Tortorella is asked about it repeatedly in press conferences. He’s not really the one bringing it up: he’s just answering questions. As well, he always notes that it’s about more than just shot blocking and is about a culture of doing the little things right.

          With some teams, they just don’t expect some players to block shots. It’s just not something that’s really been expected of the Sedins in the past. Their low numbers of blocked shots is partly from their great puck possession, where they’re normally playing in the offensive zone, but it’s also because it’s not something that’s expected of them, I think. Tortorella is of the mind that everyone should do it as it sets an example: if even the Sedins are laying out to block shots, then the rest of the team sees it and realizes they have to step up and do the same.

          I mean, I’m not entirely sold on it. A large quantity of blocked shots is usually a bad thing as it indicates that you’re allowing a lot of shot attempts against and don’t have the puck enough. It’s not that blocking shots on its own is bad, just that a lot of blocked shots is usually indicative of poor puck possession. Tortorella has emphasized a couple times, however, that blocking shots is about puck possession, about recovering the puck.

          I’m really curious how this is going to play out this season.

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          • PB
            September 13, 2013

            Yes, that’s fair enough — there’s a lot of passive-agressive baiting of Tortorella by *some* members of the media, and a lot of watching to wait for the inevitable explosion. For all of his other issues, I did like the bag skate or equivalent that he put them through yesterday — and to see how it’s reported. Dallas Eakins in Edmonton seems to be a real fitness freak but his methods are embraced as new school.

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  7. Lemming
    September 12, 2013

    I agree, it’s not a big deal to ask them to block a shot when the opportunity comes up. The point is that they were never really asked to penalty kill and they crush possession on even strength play, so they don’t really end up in the defensive zone. Like you said, how can they block shots when they’re giving the other fits in the offensive zone? Only by virtue of the fact they’ll be asked to play on the PK will their shot blocking probably go up.

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  8. Dan
    September 12, 2013

    How was New York’s top line/O-zone majority people’s shot blocking stats

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  9. tj
    September 12, 2013

    Well, call me Anxious and give me meds… Does Torts even appreciate the kind of pretty play the Sedins are best known for? I mean, I get the feeling he thinks it is all useless tiddle-twaddle. Anyhoo… Since the NHL has largely caught on to the one-trick, albeit pretty, pony of the Sedin-cycle, this could mix things up so when Sedinerie happens, it’s especially magic.

    But then, that Polyanna POV could just be the meds…

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  10. iain
    September 13, 2013

    hm. can torts get kesler to block FEWER shots, so that he can play for like, oh, i don’t know, more than 1 game in a row?

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