Shot blocking has been a hot topic around the Leafs of late, with both Tim Brent and Freddy Sjostrom suffering minor injuries after getting in front of big shots from the point.
Brent recently had a shin pad cave in after one shot from Alex Ovechkin, then ended up with a giant purple welt on his thigh after stopping another shot from Predators captain Shea Weber. Sjostrom missed practice on Sunday after getting in the way of a puck against the Canadiens but is in the lineup against the Stars tonight.
Two of my colleagues in Mike Traikos and Paul Hunter wrote about their hurts this week, but one question some have been asking at the rink this season is: "Is there more shot blocking in the NHL than there was before?"
The league's figures say yes.
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Since the first year the NHL has made blocked shots figures available (1997-98), they have gone from 16.5 blocks per game up to a current rate of 28.2 this season. For the most part, blocked shots have been at the 22 to 27 mark per game, but a trend is recognizable even in this short time frame.
A handful of the Leafs are now wearing special plastic guards like these over top of their skates to protect their feet, a new trend around the league in the past couple of seasons. They're meant for the most part to help protect against broken bones.
Toronto ranks fairly high in terms of total shots blocked this season, but that's a statistic that can be misleading. As I've written in the past, teams that struggle are more likely to have a high shot block total simply because they spend more of the game in their own end.
The Islanders, for example, have had exceptionally high shot blocking totals since the lockout, mainly because they've had a lot of rubber coming their way. The Red Wings, meanwhile, are always near the bottom in the statistic because of the strong puck possession advantage they always seem to have.
Saying Toronto is a "better" shot blocking team than another club based simply on their high totals, in other words, may not be all that accurate. Overall, however, the trend in the NHL appears to be toward teams blocking more shots per game as a way of preventing goals and making their goaltender's job easier.
Which is likely why you've heard it brought up more in the past few seasons than ever before.
"We haven't seen a player score a goal for every game in 15 or more years and we likely won't see it because of all the defensive specialty in the league and the shot blocking," Leafs coach Ron Wilson said. "You see a team like the Rangers, and they took 35 shots but they also blocked 37 [in one recent game]
"You've got teams spending 300 dollars on those plastic skate shields so defenceman won't break their feet blocking shots. For Phil [Kessel] he's facing 18 guys now who are passionate about defence."
And it's no wonder scoring has been trending down, slowly, since the power play filled 2005-06 season bumped that figure up from where it was in the Dead Puck Era.