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In the line of fire

Jets enduring bruises but earning victories sacrificing their bodies blocking shots

Posted: 12/4/2013 1:00 AM | Comments: 0

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Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec doesn't mind the shot-blocking help of defencemen such as Jacob Trouba, even if it means the odd deflection ends up in the net.

CHRIS SZAGOLA / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS ARCHIVES Enlarge Image

Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec doesn't mind the shot-blocking help of defencemen such as Jacob Trouba, even if it means the odd deflection ends up in the net.

NEW YORK -- According to the man they're most trying to help, they all need their heads examined.

And, as it turns out, their feet, their ankles, their legs, their arms and their ribs.

Welcome to the world of shot-blocking.

 

"It's tough for defencemen," Winnipeg Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec said. "Be honest. Look at the gear they're wearing. It's kind of a little bit crazy to want them to stop the puck and block shots.

"But I think our defencemen do a great job, and the forwards, too, not just the defencemen."

This discussion with a goalie always includes whether his teammates should really try to help him in this area, or just get the heck out of the way and let him take care of the stopping.

Pavelec doesn't mind the assistance.

"There are times when they try to block a shot and they tip the puck and it goes into the net," the Jets goalie said. "That's the way it is. You can't blame anybody. Our guys don't want them to score. They're trying.

"Especially on penalty kills, you need forwards and defencemen blocking shots.

"But it's unbelievable that they do it, when you look at their gear."

Sometimes the gear offers little or not protection. And often, especially in the offensive zone for the forwards snooping around the net, it's friendly fire that's the danger factor.

One thing is pretty clear given the velocity of pucks in the NHL -- getting in the way is not for the weak-willed.

"There's less fear on the offensive side than there is on the defensive side," said Jets forward Chris Thorburn. "When one goes off you and into the net, great.

"But blocking shots, you can be out of position sometimes and like Wheels (Blake Wheeler) the other night, he's sliding and takes one in a tough area. I guess all-round it's rewarding both offensively and defensively, but to be scared, I don't think you'll find too many guys who are scared."

The Jets have taken their share of bruises in the last 10 days. In the first four games of their six-game road trip that continues Thursday in Sunrise, Fla., they have done well on the defensive side.

Winnipeg has recorded games of 14, 21, 17 and 21 blocked shots in winning three of the first four outings.

This more-Western-Conference-way of doing things has lifted the team's total to 215 for the season, putting it in the NHL's top 10.

"Sometimes that's just what it calls for," said Wheeler, who might be considered a more offensive player. But he's had at least one blocked shot in each game of the road trip so far. "When you're in a tight game and sometimes you're hemmed in your zone a little bit, sometimes you've go to do what it takes to make sure the puck doesn't get through.

"We talked about that as a group before the year, that there are things you're going to have sacrifice if you're going to get over the hurdle that we haven't been able to the last couple of years. I think that all ties into it.

"Every night, it's just not just when you feel like it. You've got to make sacrifices and I think we're on our way to do that."

There are a few more smiles, but just as many bruises, when the subject switches over to the danger zone on offence.

"It's part of the job as forwards," Wheeler said. "Our job is to get in front of the net. And it's part of the defenceman's job to get the pucks through. That hopefully means lower than neck-high but in this game, sometimes things don't work like that.

"I think it might be productive one day if we put the forwards back on D and the D's in front of the net and let us fire away. That might change a few things once in a while."

In the last two weeks, Jets forwards Devin Setoguchi has been quite a target.

Standing near the net, he took an Evander Kane shot near the eye in practice just before the road trip started, producing a professional-looking shiner. Then, in the game in New Jersey last week, he took the full brunt of a Toby Enstrom slapshot in the middle of his chest, producing a serious welt.

"Oh, it wasn't that bad," Setoguchi said. "Luckily these shoulder pads have this breast pad here. There's some foam/plastic so that took some of the force.

"Otherwise it could have been a long trip."

Most NHL forwards are pretty good at getting out of the way at just the right second in the offensive zone. But not always.

"Hopefully the shot's below the ears because that means it's below the crossbar," Thorburn said. "You pick up (defencemen's) tendencies and stuff like that. It's not so much talking, you just have a feeling and you have to hope your feeling is right most of the time."

Otherwise, you'll be feeling it.

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 4, 2013 C2

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