Penguins Notebook: Blocked shots buoying defense
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SAN JOSE, Calif. -- It's a not-so-hidden talent that has served the Penguins well.
On a team known for its firepower on offense, the Penguins have been good at the other end, too. Going into their late game against the Sharks last night at HP Pavilion, they were among the NHL leaders in goals against with an average of 2.11 per game.
Certainly, that speaks to the goaltending and overall defensive play by the skaters.
But it doesn't hurt that the Penguins, through Monday, were leading the league in blocked shots with 160. That was considerably more than the second-place team, Ottawa, at 138.
So imagine how some of the Penguins' top shot blockers reacted when they heard that at a meeting of NHL general managers last week, Montreal's Bob Gainey -- a Hall of Famer who in his playing days was known for being a strong two-way player -- proposed a rule that no doubt would cut down on legal blocks.
If adopted, the rule would require a player to have at least one skate on the ice when he blocks a shot; otherwise, it would be a penalty.
"So ... you ... wouldn't ... be allowed to dive to block a shot?" Penguins defenseman Rob Scuderi pondered, letting it sink in. "I don't think it's a very good idea."
Going into last night, Scuderi was second in the league with 28 blocks. Teammate Brooks Orpik was ninth with 22. Among other Penguins defensemen, Mark Eaton had 18, Kris Letang 17 and Hal Gill 16.
Orpik decided the proposed rule change -- which the GMs will revisit when they reconvene in March -- wasn't worthy of a response.
Eaton first said the same thing, then shared one aspect he finds disturbing.
"The second you start thinking about blocking a shot and keeping your skate on the ice, you could get hurt," he said.
The purpose of Gainey's proposal is to allow more shots to get through to the net so fans can see more scoring opportunities and, it would follow, more goals.
Scuderi argued that fans, and teammates, also get a lift from a player willing to slide to the ice to block a shot.
"Sometimes when you go down, your body is vulnerable," he said. "You show some guts and try to do something positive for your team."
It isn't known if there would be a provision to exonerate players who had their feet in the air to, say, lunge for the puck, then were purposely hit with the puck by an opposing player trying to draw a penalty.
In Game 5 of the Stanley Cup final against Detroit, Ryan Malone, who is now with Tampa Bay, took a slap shot off his already broken nose but wasn't off the ice long and, late in the third period, put his glove over his face and threw his body in front of a shot. If the new rule is adopted, presumably for next season, such a play would send a player to the penalty box, not elevate him to hero status.
"No, it won't happen," said Sharks defenseman Brad Lukowich, who entered last night's game with 13 blocked shots. He doubts the NHL Players Association would grant its approval.
"I have a lot of respect for Bob Gainey, but let's leave the rules alone," Lukowich said. "Let's let everyone learn the rules that we have now first, and then tweak it. If you tweak it every single year, we don't know the rules. How are the fans going to know the rules?
"If you don't want your shot blocked, get your shot through. These are the best players in the world."
Minnesota GM Doug Risebrough is on Gainey's side.
"I agree with it," he told the St. Paul Pioneer Press, adding that the new rule would be a logical response to the adjustments teams have made defensively since the crackdown the past few years on infractions like holding and obstruction.
"The fine-tuning of trying to make sure we're vigilant about keeping enough offense in the game is a reality."
In Montreal, Gainey had the top shot blocker in the league through Monday in Michael Komisarek, with 31.
But Komisarek told the Montreal Gazette that such a rule would not diminish the Canadiens' ability to get in the way of shots.
"Most of the shots we block are a matter of getting into the shooting lanes," he said. "I'll go down on one knee, but I always keep at least one foot on the ice and that will be OK.
"When you see guys diving, it might be when they're trying to catch up to the play or when they're moving on the penalty-kill. Most of the time, I'm trying to get my stick or my body in the way."
Gill joined his Penguins teammates for the morning skate, the first time he practiced with them since sustaining a right-hand injury Oct. 20 at Boston.
He remained out of the lineup, but coach Michel Therrien called him "closer" to being able to return.
Gill indicated he is feeling OK.
Asked if handling the puck is the problem, he smiled and said, "Always is."
The Penguins also were without center Max Talbot, who missed his first game of the season because of an undisclosed injury. Paul Bissonnette took his spot in the lineup.
First Published October 29, 2008 12:00 am