Much has been made of the Oilers' shot-blocking prowess this season -- it seems a game doesn't go by without the commentators citing their aptitude in the discipline. This is likely because the Oilers sit first overall in the league in blocked shots at the moment, with 198. This may sound like something to hang your hat on, but a reasonable person would ask whether looking at the overall level of shots is the most effective means of discerning who the best shot-blocking team actually is. Let's have a look-see.
So, if we don't use the highest overall number of blocks, what other means could we use to figure this out? The simplest and best approach, in my opinion, would be to compare the ratio of blocked shots to shots against on net. The higher this ratio is, the more shots you block relative to shots that get through to the net, and vice versa. How do the Oilers do? Well, not exactly first place.
You can see from this table that the Oilers have a "blocks to shots" ratio of 0.49, good for 15th in the league right now (making them the 15th most effective shot blocking team, by this measure). So, for every 2 shots the Oilers allow on their net, they block about 1. This is well off the mark of the top team in the league, the Colorado Avalanche, who block 2 shots for every 3 that make it on goal.
The point I'm trying to make here is that the Oilers lead the league in the number of blocked shots mostly because they nearly lead the league in the number of shots allowed per game, at 34.0 per game. They have the opportunity to block a lot of shots, because a lot of shots are being fired at their own net. A far more prudent strategy would be to minimize the number of shots against, thereby foregoing the need to block the shot in the first place.
What about individual players -- is there a way we could rate them at shot blocking? I'll use data from behindthenet.ca to compile even strength shot rates against per 60 minutes of play while they are on the ice. What I'm after here is what percentage of all the shots hurled at a certain player's net while they are on the ice are blocked -- this includes all shots against, including goals, saves, misses, and blocks. Are any Oilers particularly adept at this metric at even strength? Well... no.
I had added a wrong column in the initial table, thanks to a user for pointing that out for me. This one is fixed.
The Oilers are now much better placed, with Fistric 20th in the entire league among players with more than 5 games played. Smytty is right behind him in 21st, and Petrell is at 25th overall. Heading up the rear is basically the team's entire top 6, along with Justin Schultz. I suppose this makes sense, as I never really remember the kids laying out much to try to block a shot. On the whole, there's some good and bad here, but I'd still say far from the dominant shot blocking team that's characterized in the media...
So the next time you hear Greg Millen remarking on the Oilers' incredible shot blocking ability, you can try to explain to him what the difference between a level and a rate is. Good luck!