When It Comes To Blocking Shots, The San Jose Sharks Are Paying The Price

Blocked shots are synonymous with the grind of the postseason, a representation of a player's will to put it all on the line and help their team win hockey games. It embodies what it means to be a Stanley Cup contender on many levels-- effort, selflessness, pain, and sacrificing the body for the good of the collective.

And as Dany Heatley showed us last night when he layed out on the ice to block a Niklas Kronwall slap shot from a prime scoring location, you need everyone buying into that mindset in order to succeed.

However, blocked shots are a statistic that need some context in order to be fully appreciated. A team who blocks 20 shots in a game but gives up 45 on net is far less effective defensively than one who blocks 15 and only gives up 25 on net. It's a representation of puck possession, and as any Head Coach across the League will tell you, being lodged in your own zone while your goaltender gets vulcanized rubber thrown at him is not a recipe for success.

The San Jose Sharks enter today as the second best team in the NHL when it comes to blocking shots this postseason, trailing only the Tampa Bay Lightning who completed their stunning sweep of the Washington Capitals last night. Douglas Murray (23) and Marc-Edouard Vlasic (22) lead the team in this metric, a not so surprising fact of life-- due to their location on the ice defenseman block far more shots than forwards, a role that is expected if not required this time of year.

But perhaps what is most surprising is how well the Sharks have done blocking shots in regards to their forward group. Logan Couture (14), Dany Heatley (11), and Joe Pavelski (10), three of San Jose's most dangerous offensive players, are first, tied for fourth, and tied for sixth respectively when compared to all forwards in the NHL postseason. It's a price that has been paid up and down San Jose's lineup, featuring the names of players who are more known for their goal scoring abilities than their defensive benefits.

But in order to put this in context and attempt to see how good a team truly is at blocking shots, there needs to be context. As we mentioned above, teams who give up a wealth of shots on net probably shouldn't be considered as "good" at blocking shots as a team who keeps their goaltender from having to make a slew of saves-- time spent in the defensive zone is not an effective use of a team's capabilities after all, primarily because with it comes risk of a goal against.

Broken down by a percentage of shots on net we can better understand a team's ability to make a difference when blocking shots; in other words, it allows us to see which team is really frustrating opposing team's by restricting their opportunities to score goals.

Here's a comparison of all eight teams who made it to the second round of the 2011 NHL Playoffs:

2011 Postseason Blocked Shots

Rank Team GP
% of BKS
1 San Jose
9 172 269
9 159
Tampa Bay
11 233
10 160
7 120 239
9 129 273
10 157
10 118 312

As we can see here, despite trailing the Lightning in raw totals (Tampa has 233 blocked shots to San Jose's 172), the Sharks are the most effective team still left in the postseason when it comes to blocking shots. The Lightning have ultimately rode the percentages to an Eastern Conference Finals appearance, and while Dwayne Roloson's performance is awe-inspiring (and should come as no surprise to Sharks fans considering his run in 2006 with Edmonton), there are numerous risks with playing the game of hockey in your own zone so often.

San Jose's willingness to block shots is an excellent thing to see from a team with Stanley Cup aspirations. And when one considers the efficiency they have displayed in doing so, continuing to pay the price with the body will continue to pay off dividends when it comes to the results on the scoreboard.