Red Wings defensemen embrace shot-blocking hazards
Detroit — It is not the easiest task or a pleasant experience.
But blocking shots in the NHL can frustrate even high-skilled and potent offensive attacks like the Lightning, Maple Leafs and Capitals, which are teams the Red Wings have faced this week.
A coach like the Blue Jackets' John Tortorella stresses shot blocking as a “natural part of defense.”
That natural part of the game has the Red Wings' Danny DeKeyser out of the lineup. The defenseman was still a bit gimpy walking around the dressing room after skating Friday morning. He may be out another week or more, after standing in front of a shot that struck him on the inside of his skate in a 4-2 loss to the Stars Oct. 10.
DeKeyser, hoping for a bounce-back season, has played in only three of the Red Wings eight games.
Nonetheless, he is the team leader with 10 blocked shots.
The Wings lag the NHL leaders in shots blocked heading into action Friday: the Blues' Joel Edmundson has 28 blocked shots in eight games; Flames' Mike Giordano has 26 blocks in seven games and Lightning's Nikita Zaitsev has 23 in seven.
So, when Xavier Ouellet blocked three shots in two periods against the Lightning in Little Caesars Arena Monday, it was noteworthy.
Ouellet has nine blocks in seven games, entering play Friday.
He is just ahead of Trevor Daley with eight, and Mike Green and Nick Jensen both with seven, through seven games each.
I’ve kind of always done it,” Ouellet said. “It’s part of my game.
“I think to be good defensively, you need to find a way to bring this to your game, get in lanes and you want to sacrifice your body to save some goals.”
Ouellet says it really is not a matter of practicing it outside of games, but more of mastering in-game reactions and understanding where and how the puck will be delivered.
“I think it's instinct,” Ouellet said. “You can obviously practice being in lanes, but it’s more of an instinct about when he is going to shoot it.”
Ouellet and Jensen are logging significant time on ice together as the third pairing for the Red Wings, and although they were longtime teammates in Grand Rapids, they did not play a lot together then.
Despite a bit of a rough night for everyone, especially defensively, against the Maple Leafs, both guys say they are comfortable and mostly playing well.
It is happening even though, they have only about half of the 300 games played that traditionally marks the NHL training period for a young defenseman.
Ouellet, 24, played in his 103rd game in Toronto and Jensen, 27, his 56th.
“I think we played together a few times in Grand Rapids, but it’s easy to adjust,” Jensen said. “He’s a really smart player and really easy to play with, and I think we’ve been pretty successful.”
After the disappointment of last season, the Wings said they would emphasize better “gap control,” the distance between oncoming attackers and the Red Wings defenders.
So far, so good with their pairing, Jensen said.
“I think we’ve had great gaps,” he said. “I think that’s one of the best things we’ve been doing together, and I think we’re going to continue improving as partners as long as we’re playing together.”
Jensen still wears some protection on his right thumb but says he is recovered from the injury.