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Posted at 08:15 AM ET, 01/06/2012

Blocked shots are a double-edged sword

STATISTICAL ANALYSIS | Want to know if a hockey team is gritty or tough to play against? One barometer is to just look at how many blocked shots it has. Defensive players in particular consider blocking shots a badge of honor, proving their willingness to sacrifice their bodies to prevent a shot from going on net.

The Washington Capitals have blocked 541 shots so far this season with no individual in the top 30, but if you listen to the coaching staff for any length of time, it is something they want to continue to improve on.

But does an increase in shot blocking mean fans can expect more wins in the long run? Not necessarily.

Of the top five teams in blocked shots, only Minnesota is currently in the playoff picture, but the Wild have gone 1-6-3 in their last 10 games and are fading fast. The others — Montreal, Carolina, the New York Islanders and Toronto — would all be out of the playoffs if the season ended today. In fact, since the lockout, teams that block more shots per game have ended up lower in the standings, on average.

The argument for blocking shots has always been that it saves a goal. Every shot blocked is one fewer the goalie has to save, thus one fewer potential goal against. But the majority of shots being blocked are of low quality.

During even strength, wrist shots are the most frequently blocked, but they represent an “average” shot in the NHL (8 percent success rate), a shot any goalie should be able to stop. The next most common are slap shots, especially those originating from beyond the top of the circles, but those are successful less than 5 percent of the time.

Blocking shots on the penalty kill doesn't appear to take away better-quality chances from the opposition, either. Almost half of shots blocked are slappers from beyond the top of the faceoff circles, which have a small likelihood of becoming goals, even with the goalie screened.

It is great to have players willing to sacrifice their bodies to block a shot when the need arises. But teams that block a lot of shots do so by necessity, because they are spending a majority of their ice time in their own end without possession of the puck.

Follow Neil on Twitter: @ngreenberg.

By Neil Greenberg  |  08:15 AM ET, 01/06/2012

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