“I’m an idiot.”
That’s how Wild winger Marcus Foligno reacted when he turned his body in front of a point shot from Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook recently, exposing the outside of his right leg — which absorbed the puck.
After he crumbled to the ice, Foligno couldn’t feel his leg.
He was worried but also frustrated because he knew the dangers of getting in front of a shot from that position. His brother Nick, the captain of the Columbus Blue Jackets, suffered a broken fibula making a similar stop in January 2010.
“I normally don’t block it like that,” Foligno said. “It is what it is. You kind of sacrifice yourself at the last moment without thinking.”
Although he missed the rest of the third period of that 3-1 loss to the Blackhawks on Nov. 18 after getting helped off the ice, Foligno has been back in the lineup ever since. His close call highlighted the importance of players subscribing to the proper technique when offering up their bodies to flying pucks.
“It’s one of those skills in the game, if you want to call it a skill, that you have to be willing to do,” veteran forward Matt Hendricks said. “The best shot blockers are the guys that genuinely want to block a shot. So they’re not afraid to get in front of it. They’re not afraid of what could happen or it’s going to hurt. They just know that’s their job, and they embrace it.”
The ideal location to get dinged with a shot is in the shin pad or the pants; protection added to the outside of skates also makes the feet an effective tool.
While it isn’t always possible to influence an opponent’s attempt on net, players can cut down on a shot’s trajectory by getting closer to the windup. That tactic can also weaken the power behind it.
“You just want to be square and as big as you can,” said defenseman Nick Seeler, who leads the Wild with 38 blocks.
Where a shot block happens also matters.
With a point shot, it may be preferable to have a forward get in the way instead of a defenseman. If the puck takes a bizarre bounce after deflecting off a forward defending at the top of the zone, the goaltender should have enough time to react — at least more than if it caroms off a defender right in front of the net.
“For forwards, one of the hardest things to do is to stay on your feet, to not take a knee,” said Hendricks, who’s turned aside 426 shots in his NHL career. “That’s what we want to do a lot of times because you find a lot of success in it. It makes it harder for that defenseman to shoot around you. [But] you look at some great defensemen in the league that are shot blockers, they take everything vertical. They put their pads together.”
On some occasions, a block may not even be necessary.
If the effort requires jutting a stick into the shot’s path, a player might opt against that since he could end up redirecting the puck behind his own goalie.
“When teams try to over-block instead of just continuing to play hockey and be aggressive,” netminder Devan Dubnyk said, “a lot of times they’ll cross-screen the goalie and whatnot. We do a pretty good job of not doing that.”
At 351 blocks, the Wild ranked among the top 10 in the NHL before Monday’s games. Players’ willingness to obstruct shots can also explain the team’s proficiency on the penalty kill. The Wild is third best at 85.2 percent.
“We depend on guys blocking because you’re outnumbered,” assistant coach Bob Woods said. “If you block it, it usually creates a turnover and you get it down the ice.”
But there’s another upside to shot blocking than just potentially preventing goals.
It’s the emotional lift the act provides the entire team, a boost that can reverberate long after a puck is intercepted.
“When a guy makes a big block, it’s like a big hit,” Woods said. “It’s just because of the courage it takes to do it. It’s a big thing guys respect that some guys don’t like to do it, so they really appreciate when they see someone else do it.”
NHL SHORT TAKES
• Another week, another firing in the NHL. But this time it wasn’t a coach. The Flyers dismissed General Manager Ron Hextall (above) on Monday, nixing a lengthy partnership. The former goalie was drafted in the sixth round in 1982 by Philadelphia, and he played 11 of his 13 NHL seasons with the Flyers. Twice he helped the team reach the Stanley Cup Final, and he’s the franchise’s all-time leader in games played by a goalie (489) and wins (240). But with the Flyers second-to-last in the Metropolitan Division this season and stuck in a 1-4-1 funk, team brass felt it was time to search for a new voice.
• The Central Division continues to evolve, with the Blackhawks swinging a trade Sunday night with the Coyotes that brought in two forwards. Chicago added center Dylan Strome and winger Brendan Perlini in exchange for center Nick Schmaltz. This looks like a deal that could suit both sides, since all players involved might benefit from a change of scenery.
• The NHL passed the quarter mark last week, and one of the most notable takeaways is that scoring continues to surge. Almost 2,000 goals (1,941) were tallied through the first 49 days of the season, which is an average of 6.1 per game. A team scored at least seven goals in a game 25 times, and the offense helped fuel 144 comeback wins — the second most through 317 games of a season in NHL history. And the league’s youth remains the spark plug; nine of the top 15 point-getters were age 23 or younger. Overall, 52 players were still averaging at least a point per game.