That's Gotta Hurt (cont.)
Posted: Tuesday February 13, 2007 9:28AM; Updated: Tuesday February 13, 2007 9:28AM
But the shot block that has left the largest impression this season was on the left skate of Pronger. On Dec. 31, while leading NHL defensemen in scoring with 40 points in 41 games, Pronger broke his left foot blocking a Mark Parrish shot. Without the stalwart Pronger (and injured No. 1 goalie Jean-Sébastien Gigučre), the Ducks began to unravel and went 2-5-1. The irony is that since his trade to Anaheim last summer, Pronger had grown more circumspect about shot blocking than he had been during his one season in Edmonton, a team that freely sacrificed the body, in part because of the scant faith it had in its goalies until Dwayne Roloson arrived at the trade deadline. In Anaheim, however, the seasoned Gigučre created a different dynamic. While he appreciates blocked shots, he doesn't want teammates to extend themselves -- especially if the misadventures of an inexperienced shot blocker create more screens or deflections than they do blocks. After defenseman Joe DiPenta blocked a shot with his head early in the season, Gigučre told him, "I'd rather have a goal against than have you dead."
The confluence of lighter skates, whippier composite sticks and the new shot blocking ethos has sent some players and NHL equipment managers scurrying for cover -- a foot cover. Pronger now wears them. And Coyotes equipment manager Stan Wilson, who received a carbon-fiber-and-Kevlar mold from a sled-hockey player, is now developing a version for his team. Phoenix forward Dave Scatchard, an excellent shot blocker, attaches one with Velcro over the tongue of each skate like spats. Such measures, though, are rare. "A lot of players would rather take their chances than go for added protection," says Coyotes G.M. Mike Barnett. "They don't want anything they think will compromise their quickness." A few weeks on crutches, of course, can really slow a player.
There is a certain degree of serendipity in staying healthy -- Colorado Avalanche defenseman Karlis Skrastins, who last week broke the record for consecutive games by a defenseman, ranks third in the league in blocked shots (151) -- but proper technique is a more reliable safeguard. Although historically many shot blocking specialists earned their reputations by laying out (former Montreal center and current coach Guy Carbonneau basically spent the late 1980s and early '90s horizontal), the trend is for players to stay on their feet or, if necessary, to go down on one knee, which permits a more rapid recovery. "You get a guy who's gifted like [Detroit's Nicklas] Lidstrom or [Dallas's Sergei] Zubov, and as soon as you lay out, they'll go around you," Oilers defenseman Jason Smith says. "There's a chance they'll shoot it in your face, too."
"There are a lot of defensemen who think they want to block shots, but they really don't," Canadiens defenseman Craig Rivet says. "They just pretend to be in front of shots..... Guys at this level should know where to be, what angle to take. They don't [take it] because the reality is, when the puck hits you, it's going to hurt." This is no block party, just a dirty job that has become part of the NHL landscape even if it is a four-letter word. Ouch.