With Steve Oleksy in the box for firing the puck over the glass early into overtime Saturday afternoon in Game 2, Eric Fehr knew that the Capitals needed a successful penalty kill however they could get one.
After a shorthanded chance at one end Fehr returned to the Washington zone with the Rangers pressing once more. From his spot in the high slot Fehr anticipated a pass over to Derick Brassard and immediately pushed off to his right. Before the New York center could react, Fehr dove in front of the shot with 3 minutes 22 seconds gone in overtime.
“I was trying to watch the guy in the slot, make sure he wasn’t too much of a threat,” Fehr said. “And they picked a seam across and I just went across, tried to block it and I didn’t really know the puck was underneath me until I started getting stabbed by a few guys out there.”
The block derailed the Rangers’ possession and helped Washington kill off the remaining time on the penalty. Frantic, diving tries to get in front of a shot are commonplace in the postseason, but it’s not something Capitals Coach Adam Oates encourages — even on the penalty kill.
Oates will likely never be a fan of players leaving their feet to block a shot because it prevents them from anticipating the next play. “Most of the time, for me, if a guy is laying down he’s out of position,” he explained Sunday.
But the Capitals’ bench boss knows it’s not a cut-and-dry issue — especially in the playoffs — and that shot blocking, whether standing or sliding across the ice, depends on a player’s ability to read the play.
“A little bit of the heat of the moment, maybe a guy overreacts – doesn’t have to lay down but he does,” Oates said. “Maybe a little bit of who’s shooting the puck, so many different variables.”
Last month when I wrote about the improved penalty kill, which has allowed 20 power-play goals in the last 39 games after giving up 15 in the first 11 this season, Oates and assistant coach Tim Hunter explained that getting players not to leave their feet when blocking a shot was the toughest adjustment to the new shorthanded strategy.
Through the first two games in this Eastern Conference quarterfinal series, Washington has been credited with 38 blocks while the Rangers have 36 blocks. But where New York will happily dive in front of any attempted shot (or potentially be faked out trying to do so, like Ryan Callahan was in overtime of Game 2), the Capitals are more apt to try and block a shot standing up this year because of the coaching staff’s direction.
While both approaches can be effective, the Capitals know the key to shot blocking well in their system — particularly on the penalty kill — is balance.
“With a PK that’s so structural, you can’t afford to kind of get out of position,” Jay Beagle said. “There’s also the time like [Saturday] when Fehrsie goes down and blocks that shot. That was a huge block. It’s kind of a read. It’s kind of like a player’s read. If you see that he’s going to make the shot and you have a chance to get down and block it, we obviously need to get those blocks, too. But it’s a balance. You’ve got to keep it in the back of your mind.”