Dale Hunter likes it when the Washington Capitals block shots. He likes it when the London Knights, his Ontario Hockey League team, block shots. He's all about sacrificing the body and paying the price.
So the coach knows very well when an opponent can do it well — like the New York Rangers.
"It definitely starts with their goalie, which is a top-end goalie in the league, and they block a lot of shots," Hunter said. "They slide, and you've got to really concentrate on getting shots through because they go down so much. And they're led by their captain, [Ryan] Callahan. He has the unique little style to block a lot of shots."
It's a well-deserved reputation for Callahan and the Rangers, who have an All-Star goaltender in Henrik Lundqvist who is made even better by a team-wide commitment to blocking shots.
"I think they're probably one of the better shot-blocking teams in the league," Caps defenseman Dennis Wideman said. "Their forwards are just laying in front of everything; it doesn't matter who's shooting."
Anytime they face the Rangers, like Sunday at Madison Square Garden, the Caps know they need to adjust and adapt when firing the puck at the net.
"You can shoot the puck all day, but it's going to get blocked all day. It's just not worth it," defenseman Karl Alzner said. "It just makes it that much harder for us to be able to do anything. It's tough enough as it is nowadays to get pucks through. Not only do you have to get it past that first guy, who's incredibly good at blocking it, but you've got to get it past guys like [Dan] Girardi, who's trying to knock down everything.
"They just make it really hard on all of us."
But the Caps enjoyed success against the Rangers in a home victory in December. And though that was a long time ago, the recipe can be similar.
"If they're lined up perfectly, you're going to have shoot to miss the net and get tips that way. You've got to be aware of it, because they do create offense," Hunter said. "We have to be aware to get shots through so they don't create offense that way, either."
It's an interesting point made by Hunter and Wideman — that the Rangers use shot-blocking not only to prevent goals against but spark odd-man rushes.
That double-edged threat makes the Caps think twice.
"I think we have to find ways to get pucks through, and when we can't, we've just got to put it down and cycle it and look to shoot another day," Wideman said. "Because if they keep blocking them, they get breakaways."
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