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Blocking shots is expected from all NHL players these days

| Friday, Feb. 24, 2012

Penguins veterans Arron Asham and Richard Park broke into the NHL in the 1990s, when blocking shots was reserved for the playoffs.

Times have changed.

If a player isn't interested in blocking shots during this era of the NHL, he will be replaced by someone who is.

"It's incredible how things have changed," Asham said. "All these young kids are freaking crazy. They'll jump in front of anything, any shot."

With the exception of the occasional shot-blocking "specialists" who were in the league during previous generations, there was an unwritten rule that players would only sacrifice their bodies in the playoffs or if a game was on the line.

During the past decade, however, some coaches began to instruct players to always block shots.

Said Rangers coach John Tortorella earlier this week: "Blocking shots is a part of who we are."

When players on the best team in the Eastern Conference are willing to block shots, so must everyone else.

"It used to be so rare," Park said. "Nowadays, it has become a huge part of the game. I'm sure teams around the league would rather have guys willing to get in front of a shot. It's just the way it is."

Stay-at-home defensemen like Zbynek Michalek and Brooks Orpik lead the Penguins in blocked shots, but they aren't the only players willing to sacrifice their bodies. Stars like Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby have never been shy about risking an injury for the betterment of the team.

"And when you see the stars doing it," Park said, "I think it speaks volumes for how much it is stressed in the locker room."

Certain players, notably former Penguins defenseman Jay McKee, wore heavy amounts of armor under their uniforms to protect themselves from the dangers of shot blocking. Most of the Penguins, however, prefer little or no padding so that other facets of their game aren't affected.

Michalek, a shot-blocking master who leads the team with 96, only wears extra protection on the outside of his skates. Otherwise, his body is vulnerable.

"You can't be afraid," Michalek said. "It's something that comes automatically to me. You can't think about who is taking the shot or anything like that. It's just part of my job."

There are dangers to blocking shots, with injuries only being part of the risk. If a shot isn't blocked cleanly, a goalie might be handcuffed by a deflection or a screen.

"There is a time and a place for it," defenseman Deryk Engelland said. "You don't want to block your goalie's view."

More times than not, though, players are choosing to block shots when given the opportunity.

"We've got guys like (Craig) Adams, Michalek and Pauly Martin," Asham said. "They'll block a ( Boston defenseman Zdeno) Chara shot. They don't care. Give them credit."

Michalek simply shrugs his shoulders. Blocking a frozen, rubber puck moving at upwards of 100 MPH is simply part of his job.

And really, it's become part of everyone's job.

"You don't want to be reckless about it," he said. "But we will pay the price to win."

The puck stops here

Blocking shots isn't an option for the Penguins, but rather, a job responsibility. Here are their leaders in shot blocking this season:

Player — Blocks

Zbynek Michalek — 96

Brooks Orpik — 90

Paul Martin — 87

Kris Letang — 63

Matt Niskanen — 60

Deryk Engelland — 55

Craig Adams — 36

Pascal Dupuis — 35

Matt Cooke — 31

Joe Vitale — 28

Ben Lovejoy — 28

Evgeni Malkin — 26

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