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It probably doesn't matter how many shots your team blocks

By Adam Gretz | Hockey writer
Pucks and Numbers: a weekly statistical look at what's happening around the NHL. This week: a look at how it probably doesn't matter how many shots your team blocks.

It takes a lot toughness and, let's face it, a little bit of craziness to willingly throw your body in front of a frozen piece of rubber as it's fired through the air at a ridiculous speed, just 10 feet away from where you're standing. Especially when, if it catches you in the wrong spot, it has the ability to shatter a bone or two, prematurely ending your season.

It's not an easy thing to do, and shot blocking is a skill that is often held in high regard and viewed as a positive trait for players, especially defensemen. The problem with that thought process is teams that block a lot of shots are only doing so because they're in a bad position on the ice, and as a result probably aren't winning many games over the course of the season.

Cam Charron at CanucksArmy recently tackled the subject of "real-time" stats, which includes not only blocked shots, but also hits (a statistic that I also loathe), and how they're not only almost always used incorrectly, but also how misleading they can be.

Taking a quick look at the 2011-12 season, which is now in its final week, 11 of the top-17 teams in the NHL in blocked shots have already been eliminated from playoff contention, and of the teams that haven't, a number of them (Washington Capitals, San Jose Sharks, Dallas Stars, Colorado Avalanche) still have a very real chance of falling short of the postseason, and if they do get in, will do so by a very small margin.

Here are the past 10 years worth of data, with blocked shots on the horizontal and wins on the vertical.

BlockedShots

If it's hard to take anything away from that clutter of dots, look at it this way: Of the top-100 teams in blocked shots over that 10-year stretch, only 39 of them won more games than they lost in a given season.

On the other side, of the 100 teams with the fewest blocked shots, 60 of them won more games than they lost.

Another way to look at it: Of the past 10 Stanley Cup winners, only two finished that particular regular season higher than 13th in blocked shots. Two of them finished dead last.

If you have an opportunity to block a shot and keep a potential shot on goal from reaching your goaltender or the net you're defending you should absolutely try and take advantage of it. The problem isn't the actual act of blocking the shot, but what it represents about where (and how) that particular game is being played.

The only time you can block a shot is when you're in own end of the ice and not controlling the puck, a situation that no coach in the NHL wants his team to be in. It can usually be a last act of desperation due to an inability to get the puck up the ice and out of danger.

In his most recent post at CanucksArmy on the same topic Charron asks, "So why do many analysts continue to bring up blocked shots as an indication of defensive play? Well, I don't really have an answer for that."

I think it's simple, and it extends beyond analysts to current and former players and even fans: a large percentage of hockey fans (and analysts) tend to enjoy the carnage that comes from players throwing their bodies in front of shots (and throwing their bodies around the ice to deliver big hits) more than they enjoy watching a player make a crisp, clean exit pass out of the zone to get the puck out of danger.

The former is viewed as tough, hard-nosed hockey. Playing a gritty man's game, or something along those lines.

The latter, which is almost always the better and more valuable play, almost never gets noticed or any recognition unless it results in a goal at the other end of the ice.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter and like us on Facebook.
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