As Los Angeles Kings fans, you might be surprised to learn that, according to a lot of recent articles, this year’s playoffs is boring. According to the current meme, this is due to excessive shot-blocking. Canada.com’s “Should the NHL Outlaw Shot-Blocking?” is my personal favorite headline of this year’s playoffs. How would that work exactly? A minor penalty? Maybe a major if the ref determines it was intentional? Video review? Did he or did he n9ot display a “distinct blocking motion”?
Get in a shooting lane, calculate an angle, and under no circumstance allow a puck to get through to the net. A stick, a foot, a shinpad . . . whatever you’ve got, get it in the way of the shot from the point or the high slot.
Calculate an angle?
If you are half-watching the National Hockey League’s post-season, wondering what’s to blame for the stillborn scoring chance, the six men jostling for position in the goal crease, the passing back and forth between point-men looking for a hint or even a rumour of a seam through which the puck might be squeezed edgewise, there’s your answer.
And the Lifetime Achievement Award for Unfortunate Metaphors goes to “stillborn scoring chance”.
“Blocking shots is not an ability, it’s a willingness,” winger Justin Williams was saying Tuesday morning, as the Los Angeles Kings prepared their body armour for another night of nipping scoring chances in the bud, which is what the four surviving teams in the Stanley Cup playoffs do above all else.
Oh my god. Is that true? Is that what the four surviving teams do? Actually, no. But we’ll get to that in a second.
The science [of shot-blocking] has been gradually perfected to the point where, in these playoffs, the shot that gets all the way through to the goaltender draws a “How on earth did that happen?” gasp from the audience.
The Kings had 8 goals on 88 shots in the first two games against Phoenix.
“It’s definitely changed the game, and not necessarily for the betterment,” said Dave King, the lifelong student of the game who’s now the Phoenix Coyotes’ development coach. [...] “When they made the neutral zone smaller and the end zones six or eight feet bigger, two different rule changes, all of a sudden everybody collapsed to cover a bigger area, and then, if you’re going to cover the key area, the points are going to be open. So if you’re going to give away the points, you’ve got to get in the shot lanes.”
Why would you collapse to cover a bigger area?
I liked this call to sanity from Rory Boylen at the Hockey News:
What makes no sense here is that, most of the time, the blocked shot happens after a puck is directed at the net from the point. That’s not what you would call a skilled play. In fact, when you take a shot from the point, you’re just hoping someone tips it in, deflects off a defender’s leg or that your guy in front is able to screen the goalie. [...] The perceived prevalence of shot-blocking has nothing to do with the amount of open-ice rushes we get.
If shot-blocking is the new bane of the league, you’d assume the four teams left would be high-ranking officers in this new regime. But that’s not so. We have a wide range and the No. 1 shot blocking team, Washington, isn’t even alive. Last year’s final four in post-season blocked shots per game: The Sharks were fourth, Lightning fifth and the two finalists ranked 13th and 14th.
Nothing about this year’s shot-blocking is new and there hasn’t been an overwhelming number of [blocked shots]. There have been an average of 15.7 blocked shots per game in these playoffs. Last year it was 16.6. The year before it was 16. This is actually the lowest shot-blocking total we’ve had in three years. And the Rangers, the whole reason this is even being talked about, are blocking fewer shots than a year ago.
It’s the low-hanging fruit. One team has been successful at it, so the meddlers zoom in focus and put the blinders on. Yes, the Rangers are good at it, but the Devils are ranked 15th, the Kings ninth and though the Coyotes are fourth, they still allow the most shots against and play a wicked back-and-forth game.
But why let reality (ooh, numbers! MATH! That’s for wimps and liberals!) get in the way of a good bias?
What’s really going on?
People don’t like the Rangers. They block a lot of shots. People have historically associated the Devils with boring trap hockey. They don’t really do that anymore (Kovalchuk, Parise, etc.), but these prejudices die hard. People have apparently read that Phoenix and LA are defensive teams. The Kings are, as is often repeated, the worst offensive team in the league, maybe in the last half century.
The Kings have scored eight goals in their first two games in this series.
I think this whole shot-blocking complaint is really just veiled frustration that the teams the complainers were rooting for all lost. They wanted Detroit, Chicago, Washington and Pittsburgh to still be playing. Or Vancouver.
They’re not bored. They’re frustrated. Frustrated, like the teams they were rooting for were frustrated. That’s what defense is by definition. It’s frustrating. Whether it’s the ghost of Craig Ludwig’s shin-pads, or plain old teamwork (yawn, so boring — give me a celebrity superstar I can root for — am I supposed to put “TEAMWORK” on the back of my replica jersey?), the goal is to stop you from doing what you want to do. If you’re Sidney Crosby, or Alex Ovechkin (or pick your own favorite), it’s disappointing to be prevented. If you’re a fan, and these are the only names you know, and they’re not even playing…
…THERE MUST BE SOMETHING WRONG WITH THE GAME.
It’s pathetic, actually. The argument is, essentially, if (Pittsburgh, Vancouver, Detroit, Chicago, Washington, etc.) aren’t playing, it’s not because those teams lost, it’s because the game is broken.
I’ll leave you with this word salad from the Hamilton Spectator:
[These] Stanley Cup playoffs are still leaving a guy with a funny, negative taste in his hockey mouth. It’s a slippery flavour to identify but falls under this general food group: as real entertainment, this spring pretty well stinks.
Oh, the “purists” (whatever that means) might love the intensity, the pandemic of upsets, the exhausting one-on-one battles on the boards and the unspeakably hard work. But we can see most of that over at the mills and NBC isn’t about to televise the afternoon shift and package it as prime time entertainment.
I’m going to have to check out these mills. I didn’t know they had “pandemics of upsets” or “exhausting one on one battles along the boards.” I guess I should have expected it, though, in a world where guys have “hockey mouths” and “stink” is a food group.