Flyers know there's no cringing in shot-blocking

Kimmo Timonen is the Flyers' leader when it comes to blocking shots.
Kimmo Timonen is the Flyers' leader when it comes to blocking shots.
Posted: November 13, 2010

Ian Laperriere's equipment has hung neatly in his locker at the Flyers Skate Zone since Sept. 27, the last time he skated with his teammates.

It serves as a stark reminder of the perils of one of hockey's most unheralded and unappreciated art forms: shot-blocking. To lay your body in front of a frozen piece of vulcanized rubber that travels at speeds of more than 100 mph is not for the faint of heart.

But it's something that has set the Flyers apart, just one reason they have rolled to a 10-4-2 record - their best start in 5 years - and are 7-0-1 in their last eight games.

The Flyers are back in action tonight against Florida at the Wells Fargo Center.

Through 16 games, the Flyers are second in the NHL in blocked shots. Only the Rangers, with 289, have stopped more pucks from getting to the net than the Flyers' 273.

"When things matter most, in the playoffs, it's probably the stat that you look at the most," coach Peter Laviolette said. "If you're not getting in front of shots, that means the puck is getting to your net, which could mean a second opportunity. If you are, it's the end of the story and you're out of the defensive zone.

"The fact that we're willing to do it makes you a tighter team defensively and on the penalty kill."

Laperriere has sat out the entire season so far, still struggling with post-concussion symptoms from blocking two separate shots with his face last season.

Laviolette says shot-blocking is what helps separate the men from the boys. On the ice, the men are the ones diving on pucks like grenades. The boys skate by like flamingos with one leg in the air to avoid getting hit.

"There's a courage there," Laviolette said. "You've got to want it to hit you. Some people want it to miss them, and it looks good. But it's not quite the same. Kimmo [Timonen] consistently gives up his body to block a shot."

Last season, Timonen blocked an average of 2.04 shots per game, a total of 168 on the season - which ranked ninth in the NHL. The Flyers finished fifth overall in shots blocked last year, as did Chris Pronger. This year, Timonen (40 blocks, fourth), Pronger (35, 15th) and Matt Carle (33, 20th) are all in the top 20.

"There's not really a secret to it," Carle said. "It's more of a mentality. You've got to want to not allow a shot to get through and do what it takes to make sure you're blocking it. I'm not a goalie, so it's not even something that you can practice in practice."

Carle said there is definitely a little bit of a cringe factor when stepping in shooting lanes.

"If a guy is teeing it up, you might cringe a little bit before it hits you," Carle said. "But you're making a sacrifice for the team, trying to make the goalie's job easier."

Braydon Coburn, who is 36th in the league in blocked shots (29), says the skill is more technical than just being a mindset.

"It's a positional thing," Coburn explained. "You've got to line yourself up. A lot goes into it. It's easy to line yourself up with the [shooter] but he's not shooting the puck, it's off to the side of him. You need to position yourself to where the puck is going to come off his stick and anticipate."

Shot-blocking, and other smaller facets of the game like faceoffs, may not be celebrated like goals and assists, but players have been able to carve out a solid niche in the NHL as experts.

"I don't think it is as unheralded as it has been in the past," Coburn said. "Guys are making a good living off being a specialist doing it. I think there's a lot of people that hold [shot-blocking] as a very important part of a team."

No matter which Flyer is getting in the way, watching Alex Ovechkin or Zdeno Chara wind up for a slap shot is like staring down the barrel of a gun.

"You're always kind of cringing," Coburn said. "You're always bracing yourself. It's just part of it. Sometimes it's going to hurt."

Slap shots

Five Flyers made the NHL All-Star Game ballot of 100 players. That list will be whittled down to 42 players in time for Jan. 30's game in Raleigh, N.C., where Peter Laviolette will serve as one of the head coaches. Those players are Chris Pronger, Kimmo Timonen, Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and Danny Briere. Claude Giroux was left off the ballot.

For more news and analysis, read Frank Seravalli's blog, Frequent Flyers, at

http://go.philly.com/frequentflyers. Follow him on Twitter at

http://twitter.com/DNFlyers.

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