And standing or diving in front of slapshots has become a winning habit for the Ottawa Senators. “It takes guts,” Vermette said Wednesday before Game 4 of the NHL’s Eastern Conference final. “But when you look at the big picture and you see the results we could have, it doesn’t hurt. It takes the pain away big time.”
Shot blocking has been key in helping the Senators breeze through the opening two rounds of playoffs and take a 3-0 lead on Buffalo in the conference final heading into Game 4 on Wednesday night.
Along with their thorough back-checking and consistent hitting and physical play, it illustrates the team-first attitude the Senators have adopted in the post-season.
No one does it better than defenceman Anton Volchenkov, who had a league-leading 57 blocked shots through Ottawa’s first 13 post-season games, including 11 in a 4-3 overtime win in Game 2 in Buffalo.
“Anton makes it look easy,” said his defence partner Chris Phillips, no slouch himself with 42 shot blocks before Wednesday. “You see him after the game and you know he pays the price for it, but’s he’s out there every day and it doesn’t seem to affect him that much.
“He’s starting to relish that every time someone winds up, he can get in front of it. It’s fun to watch.”
Now it seems all the Senators are in shot-blocking mode, even skilled forwards like Vermette, Dany Heatley or Daniel Alfredsson.
“It’s just the will to win and the understanding that sometimes you have to do a little more than usual, whether you’re an offensive guy or whatever,” added Phillips. “It’s doing things that may be uncharacteristic for you to do; to try to help the team win.
“Everybody’s done that.”
It is one reason the Sabres didn’t score on their first 18 power play opportunities in the series and why they have had problems getting scoring chances on goaltender Ray Emery.
Several Sabres have remarked on Ottawa’s willingness to slide in front of shots, sometimes dropping to their knees and exposing their faces to danger, to keep the puck away from their net.
Buffalo has done its share of blocking, particularly defenceman Toni Lydman, but has nowhere near the Senators’ totals.
“They’re doing a great job of that,” said Buffalo defenceman Brian Campbell.
Alfredsson said the will to sacrifice started in January, when the Senators had injuries but began to put wins together with a new commitment to teamwork.
“We had to play a more defensive style and a more sacrificing style than we did when we were healthy,” he said. “When you do something and you’re successful, even though it takes commitment and hard work, it doesn’t feel like it’s that much of a burden.”
Coach Bryan Murray said things like shot blocking are contagious – that players who normally would be reluctant to get in front of shots do it to show they want to be part of the team and “don’t get left behind in the dressing room.
“I don’t go to a particular player and say ‘you’d better start blocking shots,’ ” Murray added. “They see it happen.
“We talk about it in the general meeting, but they just take advantage of what crops up in a game and react accordingly. You find out lots about players and how they react.”