"The risk these players are willing to take game after game, shift after shift is worthy of adulation."— Larry Brooks, NY Post, May 7
"They're hot at blocking shots. We might be able to hurt a few guys [by] hitting one-timers in the foot and their head or something." — Marty Brodeur via Larry Brooks, May 16
Shot blocking in the NHL has its perils. Sure, the overly padded players of today can lay out their bodies with reckless abandon, turning aside point blasts from opponents and then quickly transitioning to offense. But there are less protected areas: Like the foot, as James van Riemsdyk will tell you; like the face, as Daniel Paille will tell you.
As Larry Brooks wrote last week, these brave New York Rangers that are throwing their bodies in front of pucks to the tune of 19 blocked shots per game are worthy of our adulation, but are also taking an inherent risk. Like, for example, an opponent blasting a puck off their noggin or feet as they're in a prone position.
That Brodeur wouldn't suggest this could happen … my goodness, clutch the pearls, NY Post! It's like the Queen of Hearts declared "Off with their heads!" From Brooks:
Even worse, there were Devils yesterday who actually seemed willing to debate whether this different kind of headhunting might be a legitimate tactic to discourage shot-blocking, though none would suggest it ever could be or ever would be adopted by New Jersey's team.
Still, the seed has been planted. When a pitcher who muses about brushing someone back nails a batter in the head, the presumption of innocence has been forfeited, the purpose having been advertised. What now would be the response from the Rangers, forget for the moment from the NHL, if a shot off a Devil's stick went awry, as in right into the face a Blueshirts defender?
First off, Brooks rightly points out that Marty's a bit of a hypocrite here. In 2003, Brodeur accused defenseman Pavel Kubina of the Tampa Bay Lightning of intentionally shooting at the head of Scott Stevens. Now, he appears to advocate for the same thing. Even in jest.
Let's not pretend that this doesn't happen already — that when a player has had his shot blocked four or five times in a game, he doesn't put a little extra mustard on the sixth attempt with an opponent sliding in front of him. Because he does.
But essentially what Brooks is arguing here is that onus is on the shooter, rather than the player hurling himself into the line of fire to deflect a speeding piece of frozen rubber, when it comes to player safety. So much for adulation for risk -- like other facets of player safety, apparently the players putting himself in harm's way must be protected at all costs.
Worry not about the Rangers. The Devils told the NY Post on Tuesday that they aren't planning to intentionally injure them with shots to the face.
"That's a little hard-core," winger Dainius Zubrus said. "I haven't done that yet in my career, actually shoot at anybody's face. I'm not really planning on it. I think there are still lanes to get it through. Sometimes the puck gets away, and people get hit. But honestly, I've never aimed at anybody's head."
Calder Trophy candidate Adam Henrique says deliberate head-hunting isn't necessary. "You pay the price to block shots," the center said. "It's always been part of the game. … Either find a way around it or find a way through it. I don't think you look to hit a guy in the head." [...]
"Hah," Kovalchuk responded when asked if the Devils would shoot to maim. "No, we have to find the lanes. We played against them a lot, and that's their strategy. When we were successful the last game in Jersey (March 6), we beat them 4-1, our 'D' found a way to put the puck on net, with traffic in front."
Brooks is right: The seed has been planted, both by Brodeur and by the NY Post. The veteran Devils goalie is alerting his opponents that shot-blocking can be hazardous to their health; the Post is alerting the Devils that it will rain hellfire on any player that does connect with a Rangers' head or foot.
[Nicholas J. Cotsonika: Dan Girardi in full warrior mode for Rangers against Devils in Game 1]
All of these accusations aside, it all comes back to the fact that the Rangers are in their Devils' heads with their shot blocking. You can see the hesitation on chances. You can see the over-passing in the Rangers' zone.
"It's definitely not the story of the series," Devils coach Pete DeBoer said. "They're a good shot-blocking team. Every team you play has strengths in certain areas. And that's one of the Rangers' strengths. One of the strengths of the New Jersey Devils is our penalty kill. It's something you have to deal with. It's not the story of the series.
"And when I look back at the game last night, I think it was as much our execution or lack of execution, and whether that was the layoff or whatever, but we have to do a better job executing, too."
"What they do doesn't matter … it's what we do." There was a time when any playoff team facing the Devils' neutral zone trap would say the same thing. It was tedious, frustrating and very effective. And now, it's the Rangers' turn to flip the script on the Devils, force-feeding them the tranquilizers they were handing out to the NHL for several seasons.
s/t Paul McManus
UPDATE: Via Tom Gulitti of Fire & Ice, the full Brodeur quote that Brooks referenced:
"We're playing a different team defensively than maybe the Flyers," Brodeur said. "I think they're a lot more in our shooting lanes for our (defensemen), so we've just got to find ways to try to expose them a little more. We've done it in the regular season. We've got to try to get it done. Right now, they're hot. They're blocking pucks. Hopefully we'll be able to hurt a few guys hitting one-timers off their foot and their head or something. Right now, they're paying the price to win and that's what playoff hockey is all about."
And a Devils comment on it:
A Devils spokesperson said that Brodeur said this morning it was, "just an off the cuff comment."
"That was not the intent of his comments at all," the spokesperson said.
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