Cap­tain Gio tops in shot block­ing

Cap­tain has mas­tered art of get­ting his body in way of op­pos­ing teams’ at­tempts

Calgary Herald - - FRONT PAGE - WES GILBERTSON wgilbert­son@post­media.com Twit­ter.com/WesGil­bert­son

The Calgary Flames’ new go-to goal­tender was ap­pre­cia­tive for the sup­port. But maybe a tad ter­ri­to­rial. “The first three or four games, it seemed like Gio (Flames cap­tain Mark Gior­dano) had eight or nine blocks in every game,” mar­velled net­min­der Mike Smith. “I was like, ‘Dude, you’re go­ing to take my job soon if you keep do­ing that.’”

Smith doesn’t have to worry about los­ing his gig. He’s been the early sea­son MVP for the Flames, stop­ping 93 per cent of shots fired in his di­rec­tion.

Ninety-three per cent of those, that is, that Gior­dano doesn’t get to first.

Calgary’s cap­tain and de­fen­sive work­horse al­ready has 35 blocked shots in just a dozen out­ings so far this sea­son. Head­ing into Mon­day’s ac­tion around the league, he ranked sec­ond among all NHLers in that cat­e­gory.

Only two of Gior­dano’s team­mates — sec­ond-pair part­ners Travis Ha­monic (22) and TJ Brodie (21) — have slid or stepped in front of even half that much rub­ber.

“When it’s there, when the block is there, for sure I’m go­ing to try to help out and not let it get to our net. Be­cause when pucks get to your net, that’s when re­bounds and that stuff hap­pens,” Gior­dano said. “But with our goal­tend­ing, there’s a fine line. You don’t want to get in his way all the time and screen him, but you want to block the ones where you know that it’s go­ing to cre­ate a re­bound or havoc around the net.”

The 34-year-old Gior­dano man­aged to keep his shin pads clean in Sun­day’s 2-1 win over the Wash­ing­ton Cap­i­tals, the sec­ond of what will be seven con­sec­u­tive home dates for the Sad­dle­dome dwellers.

The Flames en­joyed an off-day Mon­day and will have a cou­ple of prac­tice ses­sions to pre­pare for Thurs­day’s clash with su­per­star cen­tre Sid­ney Crosby and the back-to-back Stan­ley Cup cham­pion Pitts­burgh Pen­guins (7 p.m., Sport­snet West/Sport­snet 960 The Fan).

There’s al­ways a great deal of de­bate about blocked shots, a so­called “sac­ri­fice stat.”

When for­mer Flames rear­guard Kris Rus­sell set a league record with 283 blocks dur­ing the 2014-15 cam­paign, his de­trac­tors pointed to that mind-bog­gling, an­kle­bruis­ing to­tal as ev­i­dence that he was spend­ing way too much time in his own zone.

When Ot­tawa Sen­a­tors smoothie Erik Karls­son was sud­denly among the NHL’s lead­ers last sea­son, it was touted as a sign of his evo­lu­tion from one-di­men­sional of­fen­sive threat to all-around de­fen­sive stud. Karls­son fin­ished sec­ond in both blocked shots — be­hind only Rus­sell, now ply­ing his trade for the Ed­mon­ton Oil­ers — and Nor­ris Tro­phy vot­ing.

Which begs the ques­tion: are Gior­dano’s early sea­son saves good news or bad?

“I think our cap­tain is right there in the top of that cat­e­gory be­cause, one, he’s play­ing against the best play­ers every night and, two, he’s killed prob­a­bly more penal­ties than any other de­fence­man in the Na­tional Hockey League,” re­sponded Flames head coach Glen Gu­lutzan. “If my sixth de­fence­man is lead­ing the league in blocked shots, play­ing against the third and fourth line, that’s con­cern­ing. When my top de­fence­man, play­ing against the top play­ers every night, is block­ing a few more shots than other guys, that prob­a­bly comes with the ter­ri­tory of de­fend­ing the best guys in the league.”

So far this sea­son, Gior­dano has regis­tered two dozen blocked shots at even strength, 10 while short-handed and one on a Flames power play.

“On the penalty kill, you need to block shots or you won’t kill penal­ties,” Gior­dano said prior to Sun­day’s clash with the Caps, when the Flames suc­cess­fully sur­vived two short-handed sit­u­a­tions af­ter a run of ugly re­sults when down a man.

“But, for sure, there are other sit­u­a­tions where you’re out of po­si­tion a lit­tle bit and you slide out to try to block one and that goes a long ways with your team­mates. I think it gets no­ticed when­ever a guy blocks a shot. Usu­ally the bench stands up and taps the boards and every team does that.”

And when that guy is your cap­tain, your blood-and-guts …

“It just so­lid­i­fies his place in the locker-room as our un­ques­tion­able leader,” Gu­lutzan said of Gior­dano, who dead-ended a team-high 184 shots last sea­son. “I think the guys feed off that be­cause they know how en­gaged he is every game and he’s will­ing to put it on the line.”

“He’s a lead by ex­am­ple kind of guy,” echoed Smith. “You see the bat­tles he gets into on the ice and he’s a big part of our penalty kill and he’s block­ing those shots. I think he’s saved a lot of goals this year from do­ing that. You can’t help but — as a player and a team­mate — look up to a guy like that and want to be bet­ter and want to do what you can to keep the puck out of your net.

“He’s the epit­o­miza­tion of do­ing that, so it’s ob­vi­ously nice to be play­ing be­hind him.”

DAR­REN MAKOWICHUK

Calgary Flames cap­tain Mark Gior­dano is among the league lead­ers in blocked shots, step­ping in front of 35 at­tempts, which was sec­ond in the NHL as of Sun­day.

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