MONTREAL- There's a lot more to blocking shots than simply getting in the way.
The number of blocked shots for a skater is usually indicative of his willingness to sacrifice his well-being for the good of the team. Since the NHL began tracking the statistic in the 1997-98 season, the numbers show that Canadiens players will not hesitate to step in front of a 100MPH blast and act as a second goaltender.
Indeed, by comparing the total number of blocked shots for each NHL team over the years, one readily notices that the shot-blocking culture has strong foundations in Montreal. Between 1997 and 2013, Habs players have turned aside more than 16,000 shots. Only the two New York-based squads, the Rangers and the Islanders, have blocked a greater number of opposing chances during that span of time.
In 2013-14, the Canadiens are on pace to finish first overall in terms of total blocks, currently leading the league with 404 in 21 games this season.
While the stat sheets tend to lump every contributor into the confines of a single column, the truth is that same lead the way in terms of trading pain for glory. The key cog in the Habs' shot-blocking brigade is veteran defenseman Josh Gorges, a specialist in thwarting the opposition with his shinpads.
"We see more and more blocked shots on our team, because we've gotten better at it," explained Gorges, who has the team's leading shot blocker since the 2009-10 season, except in 2010-11, when he missed half of the season due to knee surgery.
In the last few years, it's not a rare sight to witness the Habs block twenty-something shots during the course of a game. However, on November 5th, 2013, coach Michel Therrien's charges blocked 38 shots, an all-time league record. Other than the goaltender, fifteen different players managed to stop the puck. Douglas Murray led his side with eight saves, a personal best for the hulking defenseman since the 2008-09 season.
"We understand that with our playing style, it's important to get into the shooting lanes. The guys are really paying the price and making sacrifices to do that. It's not easy, but when you see 18 guys who are ready to do that, it becomes contagious," maintained the 29 year-old rearguard, who still wears the scars of past blocked shots, including the one on Mike Green from February 10th 2010. "As I've always said, blocking shots is about having the desire to pay the price. If we have that mentality, then we've just got to keep it and continue on that path."
With more than 404 blocks and counting this season, the Habs are showing that they are ready to walk the talk.
Vincent Cauchy is a writer for canadiens.com. Translated by Jack Han
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