Captain Gio tops in shot blocking
Captain has mastered art of getting his body in way of opposing teams’ attempts
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.”
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.