A few thoughts about shot blocking, Alex Ovechkin and the Winnipeg Jets this week:
• Remember last playoffs when the anti-defense establishment was railing against shot blocking and how it was “ruining” playoff games by denying scoring chances?
In this lockout-shortened season, the shot blocking critics have remained relatively mum. I took the average amount of blocked shots per game by the top 10 teams in the category and added them up for each of the past three years, plus last year’s playoffs, to get an idea of the trend (time restricted a bigger blowout, but THN’s playoff preview magazine will have one). This is what came out:
2012 Playoffs: 159.2
Last year’s playoff marker was barely higher than the regular season – and it had the benefit of a Washington team that suddenly blocked shots at an extraordinary and anomalous rate. Even still, blocked shots are even higher this year, so why no stink about it?
The whole ridiculous debate was set ablaze last spring when the Capitals were playing the Rangers – the two teams with the highest shots blocked per game average – so concentrating that skill in one series must have been what ruffled feathers.
It’s worth noting that six, and maybe even seven, of the top 10 shot blocking teams this year don’t look like they’ll make the playoffs. Meanwhile, seven of the bottom 10 in the category are virtual locks to clinch, and another one or two could still make it. This pattern holds true for 2011-12 as well.
Both of last year’s Cup finalists ranked among the lowest in post-season shot blocking, and right at the bottom in the regular season in this category. Blocked shots don’t automatically translate to success, so it’s self-defeating to build a team solely around that emphasis. It’s a useful tool, but if you're blocking a ton of shots, you’re also on the defensive and odds are you’ll be weeded out somewhere along the way.
Outrage over a defensive skill that turns out to be much ado about nothing, as usual. Tomorrow, the sun will rise again.
With the exception of the NFL, sport seasons are a long grind. In the NFL, a short 16-game season leaves almost no room for error each time a team hits the field, whereas in an 82-game season like the NHL, even the best teams will have down periods and the worst teams will have at least small successes. As much as we want to analyze and draw conclusions, it’s pointless to do so without taking a big picture look.
R.A. Dickey has gained more doubters than devotees through two mediocre starts with the Toronto Blue Jays this season, but MLB seasons are twice as long as NHL ones (in a normal year), so the reigning Cy Young winner should be given all the slack possible, given his track record.
And here we are with Alex Ovechkin coming on strong, which should only be surprising if you have tunnel vision.
While Ovechkin certainly had an off season last year by his standards, he still managed to finish fifth in league goal scoring as the Capitals changed coaches and adjusted their strategy, which took emphasis and playing time away from Ovechkin.
His 2010-11 season is often clumped together with last year because he didn’t contend for trophies and score 50 goals. But he still averaged better than a point per game and finished seventh in NHL scoring.
No, he wasn’t head and shoulders better than everyone for the past two years, but he was still an elite offensive threat.
We too often get caught up in the need for immediate gratification and gloss over the whole story. It’s like reading one chapter of a book and just looking at the titles of the rest. Ovechkin is 27 years old! How his “resurgence” as a scorer is surprising remains a mystery to me.
I take no joy in second guessing a qualified NHL coach, but I’m not sure why Jets boss Claude Noel would move Dustin Byfuglien to forward in the heat of a playoff race – at least not until he’d exhausted a few other options to try and kick start the scoring.
While Byfuglien did play up front at the tail end of his Blackhawks career, he’s Winnipeg’s most dominant blueliner and a truly unique talent. Sure, something needs to be done to breathe life into an offense that’s scored 10 goals in six games, but why not try and attack the real problem: lack of a first line center?
Rather than take away your biggest blueline strength, why not first attempt Blake Wheeler, one of Winnipeg’s top three players, at center? He had some experience at that position in college and a little with the Bruins. Byfuglien was moved back to defense after about two games, but he said it best to Tim Campbell of the Winnipeg Free Press:
“It felt like I was sitting around a lot.”
Why would you want to reduce the playing time of a top player at this point in the season, even if he was struggling a little? I’d want to let him work it out and continue to play to my team’s strengths.
Rory Boylen is TheHockeyNews.com's web editor. His column appears regularly only on THN.com.
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