Last week, I discussed how there was a huge discrepancy between Blake Coleman, who was a hit machine out there on the ice this season, ending up with 225 hits on the year, while no one else had over 100. It was a major difference in playing style for one player versus the rest of the team. And it is not like Coleman is just a checking line enforcer; he was a solid producer this year on the bottom 6.
Another stat to have a huge discrepancy in the same manner was in shots blocked. On the year, Andy Greene blocked more shots across all situations than any player in the NHL this season, with 208 shots blocked in total. In fact, he had 21 more blocked shots than the next guy on the list! Greene was a shot blocking machine this year. He would have made John Tortorella proud.
But from Greene to the next Devil with the most shots blocked, the gap is rather enormous. Including Greene, there were 93 skaters in the NHL who blocked at least 100 shots this season. Greene was the only Devil to achieve that goal. Damon Severson was the 2nd most prolific shot blocker this season for New Jersey, and he had a total of 87 shots blocked, good for 121st in the NHL. He had 121 fewer shots blocked than Greene did! What a crazy gap.
Now, to say that Greene is a shot blocking king is not always the best compliment one can give a skater nowadays, even a defenseman. To many, having so many shots blocked comes with many potential negatives. It could mean the skater is regularly unable to push the puck forward and is perhaps poor in possession. That leads to spending most of his time in the defensive zone, leading to many blocked shots. If the skater had spent more time pushing the puck forward, spending more time in the offensive zone, then they would have less blocked shots. Also, it could mean the skater is slow. A fast skater does not need to rely on staying in front of the net and blocking shots, but rather can attack the opponent in possession of the puck, preventing them from even getting a shot attempt off.
For Greene, some of these concerns are valid, but perhaps not all. Given his age and wear and tear, I would definitely not call the captain a fast skater anymore, if he ever was. He might need to rely more on blocking shots where others, perhaps like Severson and Butcher, can spend more time doing other things to prevent shot attempts. However, I would not blame his high amount of ice time spent in the defensive zone on him completely. His offensive zone start percentage was next to last on the team at 26.19%, behind only Ben Lovejoy who was at 23.55%. His offensive zone faceoff percentage was worst on the team for anyone who played more than one game, with only 30.06% of his faceoffs starting in the offensive zone. John Hynes deployed Greene to play defense, not to spend time on offense. Those zone start percentages definitely played into his need to block more shots than anyone else.
Also, his CF quality of competition was fairly high, sitting at 50.34%, meaning that the combined Corsi of his competition was over 50%. He was playing against the opposition’s better forwards most of the time, not their bottom 6. That will certainly lead to spending more time in your own zone defending, especially when you start there with a defensive zone faceoff, which Greene saw quite often.
However, I do not want to entirely cover for the guy either. There are players who have incredibly low offensive zone start percentages but still manage to have positive Corsi percentages, and play most of their game moving the puck forward, not staying home defending the net with blocked shots. There are also those who do that despite playing against the opposition’s top line for most of the night. Those are not fully absolving excuses for being forced into a defensive posture for most of your minutes out on the ice, but then again, they are worth noting, especially when playing on a bad team, which the Devils were this season.
There is no doubt that Andy Greene is not the defender that he was several years ago, when he was often the unsung hero on this team night in and night out. It was why he became a team captain, and it was a very solid decision. However, he played significant minutes this year alongside mostly Damon Severson, and was not ineffective. Blocked shots may not be an ideal crutch when it comes to playing positive possession hockey, but it does prevent pucks getting to net, and Greene produced more of them than anyone else this season, and significantly more than anyone else on the team. In terms of team playstyle, it is interesting once again. Like with Coleman, who clearly plays a somewhat different style of hockey than any other forward on the team, it seems Greene plays a slightly different defensive game than anyone else on the team, using his body as a shield significantly more often than anyone else. You have to wonder if that will rub off on anyone else next year, or if he will remain the one true shot blocker on the team again next season.