No Block Party
As the injury to Trent McCleary proved, blocking shots is
The science of shot blocking is not a science at all, but an
imprecise art that requires good instinct and technique and
flat-out fearlessness on the part of its practitioners.
Canadiens forward Trent McCleary nearly died in a game against
the Flyers on Jan. 29 after he went down to block a slap shot,
was struck in the throat by the puck and suffered a fractured
larynx. The incident scared other NHL players, though not enough
to persuade them to stop blocking shots. "When I saw what
happened to him, it freaked me out," says Leafs defenseman
Dimitri Yushkevich, "but you're still going to block shots. You
see car crashes every day, yet people still drive cars."
Yushkevich endured something worse than a fender bender when he
dived in front of a shot during an exhibition game against the
Canadiens in 1998. The puck slammed into Yushkevich's forehead
and fractured his sinus cavity. Yushkevich and McCleary, who was
in good condition in a Montreal hospital last weekend, both
broke a commonsense rule of shot blocking: Lead with your feet.
Ideally, a sliding shot blocker wants to get hit with the puck
on a heavily padded leg. Still, players regularly risk their
heads and necks when they block shots, either because they're
scrambling to get into position, as McCleary was, or because the
shot goes wild.
The preferred way to block a shot is to stay on one's skates and
stand between the shooter and the net. Former defenseman Craig
Ludwig, one of the top shot blockers of the 1980s and '90s, wore
extra-wide shin pads to make that method more effective. If
required to leave their feet, many players will go down on only
one knee so they can quickly spring back into the play. Falling
into a horizontal position to block a shot, as McCleary did, is
most commonly done in a desperate attempt to defuse a two-on-one.
Recent seasons have seen the emergence of fronting, in which a
defenseman gets in front of a forward who has set up near the
crease and tries to block the shot rather than move the forward
out of the way. "That's how I get a lot of my blocks," says
Rangers defenseman Mathieu Schneider, who led the NHL with 142
at week's end. "When I go down, it's a last resort. What you're
hoping is to make the guy pass."
Of course the shooter often lets the puck fly, which is why the
safest method remains that employed by Coyotes defenseman Teppo
Numminen, a 12-year veteran, who says, "If it's a hard shot, I
get out of the way. And fast."
Is He Playing Too Much?
The Devils were atop the NHL with 75 points through Sunday,
thanks in large part to the play of perennial All-Star goalie
Martin Brodeur, who had a league-best 31 victories and was among
the leaders in most major goaltending statistics. Brodeur also
was second in games played, with 47, but if past is prologue, he
might help New Jersey more in the long run by spending a few
more games on the bench.
Brodeur has appeared in 207 regular-season games over the past
three full seasons (second, behind Maple Leafs goalie Curtis
Joseph), and each of those seasons has ended with the Devils'
getting upset in an early-round playoff series. Last year, after
appearing in a league-high 70 games, Brodeur turned in the most
lackluster postseason performance of his career, against the
Penguins. "I don't know if he's playing too much," says New
Jersey captain Scott Stevens. "We talk about it on the team, and
some guys think he does."
Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello says that the possibility
of mental and physical fatigue impairing Brodeur "is a
consideration we've all discussed, including Martin" and that
Brodeur's playing time may be scaled back in the second half.
Brodeur says that he feels strong in body and mind, and he's not
eager to cede more than a rare starting assignment to backup
Chris Terreri. "I like to play a lot, and I don't think that
will change this year," says Brodeur. "This isn't the first
season I've played so much."
New Life for an Old Star
For Flames defenseman Phil Housley, 35, Sunday's All-Star Game
was the seventh of his 18-year NHL career, yet he beamed like a
teenage rookie all weekend. "When I went on the ice for practice,
it hit me how incredible it was," Housley said. "I stopped to
look around and take things in. Two summers ago I never thought
I'd be an All-Star again."
Two summers ago Housley was coming off a career-worst 31-point
season with the Capitals and was regarded by Washington's
bosses--and many other league executives--as washed-up. He'd
been a healthy scratch in three playoff games, and soon after
the Caps were swept by the Red Wings in the Stanley Cup finals
he was put on waivers. The talent-strapped Flames, for whom
Housley had played in 1994-95 and '95-96, claimed him. "We
thought he'd play out the last year of his contract in Calgary
and that would be the end," says Phil's wife, Karin. "The [four]
kids and I didn't even move out there at first."
Housley is a precise passer and an aggressive offensive force
who at the All-Star break had scored 1,112 career points, fourth
alltime among defensemen. He's also an unimposing 5'10", 185
pounds and has been derided by some observers for his lack of
defensive fortitude. Buoyed by the more open style of the
Western Conference and the confidence shown in him by coach
Brian Sutter, Housley responded with 54 points last season and
earned a new one-year contract with Calgary. This season his 37
points were tied for fourth among NHL defensemen, and he
recently signed a contract extension that runs through the
The glow of Phil's resurgence has been darkened only by the
failing health of his mother, Mary Lee, who's battling a brain
tumor and confined to a nursing home in Minnesota. Though Phil
visits her regularly, Mary Lee is often too ill to comprehend
whatever news he bears. "I think she knows I'm an All-Star, but
I'm not always sure," he says. "I want to play so well this
season that she'd be proud of me. That's partly why I was so
happy at the All-Star Game--she'd be proud of that."
COLOR PHOTO: DAMIAN STROHMEYER When a player like Maple Leaf Steve Thomas leaves his skates to block a shot, he's putting his well-being on the line.
COLOR PHOTO: J. GIAMUNDO/B. BENNETT STUDIOS
COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK
WHOM WOULD YOU RATHER HAVE?
A Senators' ninth-round draft choice in 1993, Demitra, a Czech,
burst into stardom with St. Louis last season, scoring 37 goals
and 89 points. That was no fluke: He had 21 goals and 52 points
An Islanders' second-round draft choice in 1991, Palffy, a
Czech, is a three-time 40-goal scorer who was traded to Los
Angeles last summer. With 19 goals in 46 games this season, he
was off his usual pace.
The Verdict: Palffy's more of a pure goal scorer, but Demitra
keeps getting better. Pick him.