If you have been watching a lot of intermission and post-game bits during MSG Networks telecasts, or have simply watched this video, you have seen Steve Valiquette discuss how blocking shots can be detrimental. The argument essentially boils down to this; shots from the get stopped 97-percent of the time, and that's assuming the puck isn't shot wide. They are routine saves for the goalie. By getting in the way a defending player is risking a screen of his own goaltender or the creation of a bad bounce. Furthermore, a player leaving his skates to block a shot immediately takes him out of the play. The reward of blocking an easy save does not outweigh the risk of unsuccessfully blocking it and making it a much tougher save, or of creating a defensive breakdown. I'd also add to Steve's argument that the risk of injury is not worth it on a shot with a minuscule chance of converting, but I digress.
Steve has shown time and time again the negative consequences of trying to block shots, and yet another example transpired in last night's game against Carolina.
The initial point shot would have been incredibly easy for Lundqvist to sweep into the corner. Instead, Holden kicks the puck into the high slot for a waiting Viktor Stalberg. Then, he drops to a knee in an attempt to fix his mistake and block that shot. He not only fails to block Stalberg's shot, but screens Lundqvist and also deflects the shot. A nothing play effectively turned into a tough shot for Lundqvist to deal with.
There are hundreds of examples of this across the NHL and I would be beating a dead horse if I were to continue down this path. If you want to see more examples of this, I highly recommend Steve's video that I linked at the top.
Instead, I want to go in the other direction and show how Kevin Hayes defending in the correct manner led to Rick Nash's highlight reel goal. It is frustrating to see players classified as "offensive" and "defensive" players because it implies that the two are mutually exclusive. They are not. Hockey is a fluid game, with offense and defense being intrinsically tied. This play proves it.
The puck is sent back to Hurricanes defenseman Ron Hainsey at the left point, and Hainsey is winding up for a shot. Kevin Hayes has to make a choice. Does he stay put and leave a buffer between him and the puck carrier? Does he try to make his body as big as possible to block a shot? Or does he try to close down Hainsey?
Hayes decides to close him down. But how he does it is key to the play. Hayes stays vertical and keeps his body as compact as possible, stick included. This is ideal. By keeping his body compact, Hayes is giving Lundqvist as much sight of the potential shooter as possible. Furthermore, he is minimizing the risk of creating a bad bounce. There are no limbs flailing around and no weakened stick grip. If Hainsey shoots this and it hits Hayes, it's likely rebounding in front Hayes, perhaps creating a transition chance for the Rangers. Even if Hainsey manages to squeak a shot past Hayes, there is no high screen blocking Lundqvist's vision and it shouldn't be a problem for him.
Hainsey recognizes that he has little shooting lane and refrains from shooting, instead trying to side-step the converging Hayes and change the angle.
If Hayes had left his feet, deciding to slide or drop to a knee, he would have been helpless here. Hainsey would have been able to walk to the top of the circle and make a play from there. Hayes would have been been trying to get back on his feet as it was unfolding. Instead, because he doesn't bite on the shot fake, Hayes is in a position to adjust and stay with Hainsey.
Now successfully closed down, Hainsey is in a bad spot. Hayes has his stick right uncomfortably close to Hainsey, and if he steals the puck the Hurricanes are in a world of trouble. Hainsey himself is flatfooted while a bunch of Rangers are in position to counter-attack. Justin Faulk is really the only one in position to deal with it. An odd-man rush is almost certain. Hainsey does the only thing he can, which is fling the puck forward and hope for the best. As we see on the resulting play, that is only partially effective. Hayes gets enough of his stick on Hainsey's to jam him up. The puck ends up fluttering into Victor Rask, and Nash transitions the other way. The flatfooted Hurricanes are unable to keep pace. Here is the play in full.
Of course, Nash made a hell of a play here himself. It all starts with Hayes, though, and his impeccable technique in taking space away from Hainsey. He kept his body compact, taking away his shooting lane without sacrificing Lundqvist's ability to stop the puck if needed. He stayed on his skates, allowing him to stay with stay with his man even when Hainsey tried to side-step him. Had Hayes tried to block a shot here by throwing his body in the shooting lane, he'd get kudos for being fearless and sacrificing his body. This transition chance for Nash also would not have occurred, and maybe the Rangers never find a tying goal in this game.
As the saying goes; don't work harder, work smarter. Hayes has received a lot of flack for perceived laziness, but the truth is that people who excel at their crafts often look like they are putting forth minimal effort. When movement in the defensive zone is calculated, less effort is necessary. The Rangers have made transition chances their bread-and-butter this season, but those chances have to be created first. By worrying less about blocking shots that Lundqvist and Raanta have under control anyway, the Rangers can not only keep the puck out of their own net more often, but also create more offense as well.