There aren’t many statistical categories the Islanders have been top-10 in over the last four seasons. Not with a dismal 2013-14 followed by a pair of 100-point seasons and then bookended by last season’s postseason miss.
But there is one area the Isles have been tied for seventh, fifth, second and then first: Shot blocks. That may change this season because it has been an area of emphasis for Doug Weight during this training camp.
Weight and his staff have been coaching the Islanders’ defensemen to clear sight lines for the goaltenders rather than try to be a second netminder. Weight also wants his forwards to be aggressive at the points rather than keeping a tighter defensive structure. It’s all in the name of reducing errant deflections and screened shots, while also trying to reduce puck possession for opposing teams in the defensive zone.
Weight himself said the average fan won’t notice a ton of changes. But a few of his players see it as a real difference from past seasons.
“I think that’s going to help a ton,” Thomas Hickey said. “Blocking shots was the big trend for a long time and we’ve got guys that are excellent at it. You have Johnny [Boychuk] and Calvin [de Haan] who are up there every year because they make smart blocks. Now it’s about limiting the ones where, who’s it easier for — the goalie or the defenseman? If there’s no one else in the way, let the goalie see it and if you need to help out, do that. If you go back over the last three years and count up the ones where the average fan says, ‘Oh, the goalie’s got to have that.’ But you don’t appreciate how hard those small tips and deflections off a player are.
“If we can eliminate 10 of those this year just by playing a little more conservatively in the blocking game that could be 6-7 wins. I think that’s a new trend where you let your goalie see the puck and block it more out of desperation.”
Weight still values defensemen such as de Haan, who was fourth among all NHLers each of the last two seasons with 198 and 192 blocks. And there will still be times, maybe many times, when de Haan or Boychuk or Dennis Seidenberg will use their blocking skills.
“You won’t see that change much,” Weight said. “To me, it’s about being aggressive, getting through the body and letting the goalie see pucks. Calvin’s great at recognizing situations and the PK isn’t changing. You have to eat shots. But when somebody’s got the puck and it’s dangerous, we’ve got to find [opponents] and trust our goalies at times.”
That trust is something Jaroslav Halak appreciates. Goaltenders have never loved the shot-blocking trend, especially when pucks take bounces off defensemen and beat the goalie on a stoppable shot. Weight’s emphasis sits well with Halak.
“I always said a shot from the blue line, a clear shot, guys should leave it for us,” Halak said. “There’s maybe a two percent chance it goes in. It can always be a deflection off a foot, a shin pad, goes right on their stick and it’s tough to recover. The guys have to recognize the situation and act accordingly, too.”