Imposing self-defense

NHL’s best shot blockers well positioned, fearless

WILMINGTON — You might think one of the requirements for being an effective shot blocker is insanity, but the truth is, it’s as much science and art as it is courage. The timing and control have to be there, and it’s imperative that players who decide to sacrifice their bodies to block a shot don’t get in their goaltender’s way.

“It helps to not be scared to take a puck,’’ said Bruins defenseman Mark Stuart, who has blocked 20 shots in eight games this season heading into tonight’s contest against the Sabres in Buffalo. “Any time you’re getting in front of shots, you’re going to take one in some places that you wish you didn’t.’’

Teammate Dennis Seidenberg, said Stuart, “is really good at it. He just does a good job of getting in front of the puck and sometimes sticking his leg out there and almost playing a goaltender role.

“You don’t want to take away the goalie’s eyes, either. If it gets by you, it’s a tough save for him to make. If you’re going to get in front of the goalie, you have to make sure you block it. If you don’t have a shot to get in front of it, you’ve just got to let the goalie make the save.’’

Seidenberg, who has blocked 23 shots and led the league with 215 last year, joked that part of being a good shot blocker is not having a lot of sense.

“Maybe just being a little dumb, I don’t know,’’ said Seidenberg with a laugh. “Just looking at the shooter, if he doesn’t have a lot of time, you can step in front of the shot. If he has time, you just try to stay out of the way and go for the rebounds and try to clear them that way.

“Most of the time, it’s controlled. It’s not like I’m going head-first or anything. I’m in the shooting lane facing the puck and hoping for the best.’’

One byproduct of a team’s ability to block shots on a regular basis is that it causes the opponent a great deal of frustration, particularly on the power play.

“It’s always frustrating, even when we play and I don’t get a shot through,’’ said Seidenberg. “It just gives the other team momentum coming out of their zone, so any time you block a shot, it’s a good thing.’’

Seidenberg said blocking shots is a talent that he has been utilizing only the last two or three years. He said it’s not something he planned, he was just taking advantage of the opportunities as they presented themselves.

“I just try to help out,’’ he said. “It’s not like I’m trying to block every shot there is. If it’s there, great. But I’m not throwing myself in crazy.’’

Goaltender Tim Thomas appreciates the help from Stuart and Seidenberg as well as the rest of the team.

“Seidenberg is one of the best at it,’’ said Thomas. “He does it a lot, and Stewy does, too. Stewy has always done a pretty good job of blocking, but this year, he’s gotten really good at it.

“It’s not just them. Everybody is doing their job, not letting things get out of control, not letting things get too crazy in the zone, being pretty disciplined, not taking a lot of penalties, and giving me certain lanes so I can see the puck but also taking away other lanes for passes or for high-quality shots.’’

Star turn
The NHL named Thomas the Second Star of the Month for October. Steven Stamkos of the Lightning was named First Star, and Avalanche forward Chris Stewart was Third Star. Thomas won all six of his starts during the month and leads all netminders in save percentage (.984), goals-against average (0.50), and shutouts (3). He is the first Bruins goalie to start a season 6-0-0 since Tiny Thompson in 1937-38. Thomas had 73 saves in two victories over the Capitals and earned back-to-back shutouts against Ottawa and Toronto. He was the NHL’s First Star of the Week for the week ending Oct. 31. The Bruins Foundation will donate $1,000 in Thomas’s name to the children’s charity of his choice.

Challenging thought
When coach Claude Julien was asked how he’d feel about the NHL instituting a coach’s challenge, similar to what the National Football League has in place, he said it would depend on how it would work. “You need structure,’’ he said. “You can’t keep challenging every play. It would have to be looked at pretty closely. We make mistakes as coaches, we make mistakes as players. It’s almost like we’re not willing to accept a referee making a mistake. If we do it, it’s got to be a win-win situation. I think it has to be unanimous between the league, the coaches, and the referees. I’m open to discussion when it comes to that, but I’m not ready to stand here and say, ‘We need this.’ ’’

Nancy Marrapese-Burrell can be reached at  

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