- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 3, 2018

You can block a hockey puck with your stick or your body. One is considerably more painful than the other, and neither will get you onto a “SportsCenter” highlight reel.

Yet for all the categories the Washington Capitals led in their 3-1 Game 3 win over the Vegas Golden Knights on Saturday, their advantage in blocked shots — 26 to 9 — might be singularly illustrative of the Capitals‘ all-in playoff mentality.

“If you want to win, you gotta do the not-so-sexy things and that’s one of the things. It’s not exactly fun, but you gotta do it if you really want to win,” Devante Smith-Pelly said. “Everyone is on board with doing those things.”

The Capitals set a tone by blocking an eye-popping 15 shots in the first period alone, and 13 different players contributed at least one during the game. John Carlson led the team with four and Matt Niskanen, Michal Kempny and Lars Eller added three.

And Alex Ovechkin had two, both in the first period.

For weeks, coach Barry Trotz and Capitals teammates have said that this season, more than any season, Ovechkin has led by example and played his most complete game. That includes doing the “dirty work” like blocks.

“It’s huge when you see O jumping in front of shots,” Smith-Pelly said. “It makes everyone on the team want to do the same. So I think that probably had something to do with everyone having one tonight.”

Ovechkin compared his efforts to Brooks Orpik quickly returning to the game after taking a giant check. In both cases, a team can gain an important element that doesn’t show up in a box score: energy.

“You just have to do your best. If you block a shot, you (take) a hit or you’re gonna make a hit, just to give energy to your teammates,” Ovechkin said.

Game 3 was only the continuation of a playoff-long trend. Five of the top 10 players in blocked shots this postseason play defenseman for the Capitals: Niskanen with a league-leading 51, Orpik with 43, Carlson and Dmitry Orlov tied with 40 and Kempny with 36.

The blocks also help Braden Holtby, who only had to save 21 Vegas shots in Game 3.

“I think there’s more to blocking shots than just going out there and trying to get hit,” Holtby said “We’re doing a great job of creating the right layers, guys going out there strategically to know which lane I’m picking for sight lines, and they’re taking away the other half and making big blocks. That’s a huge part of why we’re having success defensively because it’s all through our lineup.”

Blocked shots are not the most popular hockey statistic, with its critics saying it merely shows how many shot attempts and scoring threats the opponent is getting.

“Some people would say oh, maybe blocked shots are a silly stat or not important, but any one of those that don’t get blocked could easily end up in the goal so it’s something that we have to do,” Smith-Pelly said.

Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant didn’t dismiss the numbers.

“I think it’s a great stat when you talk about winning, because it shows you that players are ready to play, ready to compete, ready to battle and do whatever it takes to win,” Gallant said. “It shows that Washington was ready to play.”

While the Capitals defended some of their best scoring threats, the Golden Knights only blocked eight shots in Game 2 and nine in Game 3.

What are Gallant’s plans to counter this Washington propensity?

“Make sure they pay a price for blocking some shots,” he said. “Shoot ‘em harder.”


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