Who is the Best Shot-Blocking Team in the NHL?

Ladi Smid goes into full planking mode against the Habs... - Richard Wolowicz

We'd like to think the Oilers are best at something, but the story isn't so simple...

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.

Rank Team BkS SA B/SA
1 COLORADO 190 290 0.66
2 PHOENIX 193 320 0.60
3 SAN JOSE 181 310 0.58
4 ANAHEIM 177 304 0.58
5 NASHVILLE 191 342 0.56
6 PITTSBURGH 193 351 0.55
7 CHICAGO 176 331 0.53
8 WINNIPEG 165 313 0.53
9 PHILADELPHIA 181 345 0.52
10 BOSTON 138 265 0.52
11 ST LOUIS 124 244 0.51
12 MINNESOTA 149 302 0.49
13 MONTREAL 154 313 0.49
14 NEW JERSEY 152 311 0.49
15 EDMONTON 198 408 0.49
16 CALGARY 114 236 0.48
17 FLORIDA 160 331 0.48
18 NY RANGERS 148 310 0.48
19 TAMPA BAY 162 341 0.48
20 WASHINGTON 166 354 0.47
21 NY ISLANDERS 146 322 0.45
22 OTTAWA 160 368 0.43
23 DALLAS 168 388 0.43
24 TORONTO 157 363 0.43
25 BUFFALO 188 443 0.42
26 DETROIT 150 355 0.42
27 VANCOUVER 131 313 0.42
28 CAROLINA 136 341 0.40
29 LOS ANGELES 91 252 0.36
30 COLUMBUS 125 355 0.35

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.

Rank Player Team Block %
1 JOHNSCOTT BUF 0.51
2 CODYMCCORMICK BUF 0.41
3 ZACRINALDO PHI 0.40
4 MARKOLVER COL 0.40
5 ERICBOULTON NYI 0.40
20 MARKFISTRIC EDM 0.35
21 RYANSMYTH EDM 0.35
25 LENNARTPETRELL EDM 0.35
38 ERICBELANGER EDM 0.34
109 SHAWNHORCOFF EDM 0.31
162 COREYPOTTER EDM 0.29
188 MAGNUSPAAJARVI-SVENSSON EDM 0.29
200 LADISLAVSMID EDM 0.28
208 NICKSCHULTZ EDM 0.28
212 JEFFPETRY EDM 0.28
245 JORDANEBERLE EDM 0.27
247 RYANWHITNEY EDM 0.27
304 TEEMUHARTIKAINEN EDM 0.26
313 NAILYAKUPOV EDM 0.26
343 JUSTINSCHULTZ EDM 0.25
372 TAYLORHALL EDM 0.25
390 SAMGAGNER EDM 0.24
412 RYANNUGENT-HOPKINS EDM 0.24
423 ALESHEMSKY EDM 0.23
579 BOBBYBUTLER N.J 0.13
580 JOHNMOORE CBJ 0.13
581 RYANGARBUTT DAL 0.13
582 ADRIANAUCOIN CBJ 0.12
583 KEVINWESTGARTH CAR 0.00

UPDATE

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!

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