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Shot Blocking Has Been Less of a Focus This Year

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In the past, Andy Greene was a giant in terms of blocking shots for the Devils. This season, without him and with a new system in place under Lindy Ruff, it seems to have been deemphasized.

NHL: New Jersey Devils at Pittsburgh Penguins Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

When you go back and look at statistics from the previous half decade of New Jersey Devils hockey, you will notice one consistent that stood out pretty clearly: Andy Greene, captain of the team during that time, blocked a load of shots, and did so consistently. On Natural Stat Trick, if you populate a list of all skaters from 2016-2019 who played at least 2000 minutes in all situations, Greene ranked 10th in the NHL during that time frame in blocks per 60 minutes at 6.42. If you further isolate that list to players who only played for one team during that time frame, Greene ranked 4th behind Kris Russell, Stephen Jones and Alexander Edler. The Devils played Greene heavily on the penalty kill during that time, and he also had ample 5 on 5 minutes, and he used that time to sacrifice his body over and over to prevent shots from reaching the crease.

This year, without the veteran captain, the Devils lost their main shot blocking defender. And without him, the Devils just do not block shots at the same rate. In fact, if you look at a list of all skaters with at least 200 minutes in all situations this season, New Jersey only has two players within the top 225 in shots blocked per 60. Here is a list of the top 5 skaters on the Devils in terms of blocked shots, and where they rank on that list, again from Natural Stat Trick (all data in this article taken before last night’s games):

Just for the heck of it, I also included blocks per 60 just a 5 on 5 play, to compare it from all situations. As you can see, none of those players really compares to what Greene did when he was with the team the last several seasons. Vatanen and Murray this year have done all right, and have cracked the top 100 in blocked shots per 60 for skaters both at 5 on 5 and all situations. But they have also not been entirely dominant at it either. Greene was consistently near the top of the league in blocked shots for the Devils there, while neither Vatanen or Murray crack the top 50 in all situations.

However, at least they put forth solid effort, and blocking over 4 shots per 60 minutes is still definitely helpful to the team. It’s everyone else where the drop off happens. Kulikov has had an awesome year so I really don’t want to knock him, he has done way more than anyone expected when he was signed. However, he doesn’t even crack the top 200 in blocks per 60, managing less than 3 per 60. And then you have Subban and Smith who are even lower. Now, these two are (supposed to be in the case of Subban) offensively-minded defensemen, so blocking shots is not their forte, and you probably would not expect to see them very high on this list. However, with the Devils allowing a lot more goals since the covid shutdown, and their GA and xGA rising, having guys back there to prevent shots getting on net would definitely help.

However, this isn’t just a defense thing for the Devils, as the forwards also clearly do not focus on shot blocking either. Let’s look at the exact same chart as above, but this time look at only forwards who have played at least 200 minutes in all situations and 5v5:

As you can see, blocked shots from the forwards are coming from mostly those on the bottom 6, with McLeod and Bastian at the top in all situations. Maltsev also does a decent job when compared to the other forwards on the team, and the gritty style that Miles Wood plays lends itself to some blocks now and again. However, look at those ranks as compared to other forwards in the league with 200+ minutes. No one is inside the top 150 in the league in blocked shots per 60, which really just showcases how blocked shots are not emphasized and focused on with the system implemented by Lindy Ruff.

What does this all mean? Well, Corsi is a stat that applies to all shot attempts, even those that are blocked. However, the Devils have not made it a major priority to block shots this season, as seen by the ranks among defensemen and forwards. So when the Devils are allowing Corsi attempts against, don’t expect that many of those are being blocked and not reaching the net. The overwhelming majority of those that are on net are going to reach Mackenzie Blackwood. Sami Vatanen has been all right with it, as has Ryan Murray, but outside of those two, blocking shots has been minimal. And no one on the team treats it quite like Andy Greene did when he was here.

Of course, you might think this is a positive in the grand scheme of things. Those who have high rates of blocked shots tend to be those “defensive defensemen” who do not rate well in analytics. They are those stay at home type of guys, who really don’t provide much in terms of offense or of generating effective zone exits. So if you want to look at it that way, I would agree with you there. When you look at the lists of top shot blocking defenders, or even forwards, most are not those flashy, high rated guys. You will see some decent names now and again, but overall, the top of those lists are not the who’s who in the NHL. Nonetheless, in terms of providing relief for Blackwood in terms of blocked shots, the Devils are not necessarily providing that this season, especially not in relation to what Greene did in the recent past as a Devil.