GLENDALE, Ariz. - It may have been a coincidence that when Bruins center Gregory Campbell suffered a fractured foot Dec. 10, he wasn’t in his preferred shot-blocking position: on the deck.
Most players prefer to block shots by staying on their skates and making themselves as big as possible to fill shooting lanes. Campbell feels more comfortable sliding.
“Soupy could write the book on sliding to block a shot,’’ said center Chris Kelly, referring to Campbell. “It’s an art to know when to slide into them, slide in that direction, and not get hit in a bad position. I don’t think I’ve mastered that art of the perfect slide.’’
That night against Columbus, when James Wisniewski wound up for a shot, Campbell was on his feet. It was a five-on-five situation. As a center, Campbell is usually stationed lower in the defensive zone at even strength. But on the play, he was up high and marking Wisniewski.
Before Campbell could drop to the ice, Wisniewski fired a shot from approximately 10 feet away that glanced off his right foot. The damage that resulted knocked Campbell out of the lineup for three games.
“Six of one, half-dozen in the other,’’ Campbell mused. “A couple years ago, I slid to block a shot. I got it off the foot and broke my foot sliding.’’
Blocking shots is among the game’s most dangerous jobs. When Daniel Paille filled a shooting lane Nov. 7 against the Islanders, Steve Staios hammered a slap shot into his visor and broke his nose. On Feb. 7, 2010, former Canuck Mikael Samuelsson hummed a one-timer off Johnny Boychuk’s cheek. Since then, Boychuk has worn a shield.
As hazardous as blocking shots can be, coaches require their players to stand in front of pucks. Post-lockout, defensemen were forbidden from engaging net-front forwards with cross-checks, hooks, and slashes. Now, D-men are instructed to front forwards and block pucks. In turn, coaches teach defensive forwards to sag into the slot as the first layer of shot-blocking protection.
Because shot-blocking is a staple of the game plan, shooters are quicker to adjust their angles instead of winding up for a slapper that can be rejected. That’s why assistant coaches like Doug Houda, who is responsible for the Bruins’ penalty kill, remind penalty killers to stay on their skates. That way, they can shadow shooters when they change their angle.
Then there are exceptions like Campbell. For as long as he can remember, he has been more comfortable hitting the deck than remaining upright. Campbell’s theory is that his body - he tries to line up his shinpads with opposing shooters’ stick blades - fills more real estate than the more popular method of standing upright.
Campbell’s method has led to 26 blocked shots, second-most among Bruins forwards behind Kelly.
“It’s all about timing when you go down,’’ Campbell said. “You have to make sure that it’s either a one-time pass and the guy’s already got his stick cocked. Or you’re able to recover.
“Since you’re going down, you don’t want the guy to be able to fake the shot and walk around you. You have to be able to get back on your feet and recover.’’
Tuukka Rask received the nod in net last night against the Coyotes for the second straight game. Rask was in net for last Friday’s 8-0 win over Florida. He entered riding a two-game shutout streak, but that ended with Ray Whitney’s goal.
Tim Thomas will start Saturday against the Stars. Thomas hasn’t played since Dec. 19, when he stopped all but two pucks in a 3-2 win over the Canadiens.
“Timmy’s the kind of goaltender who doesn’t get rusty,’’ said coach Claude Julien. “When he gets rest, he gets better. He’s certainly going to take a little bit of a break and use it to his advantage.
“After that, our schedule gets pretty hectic. I want to keep our goaltenders well-rested. But I also want to keep them sharp.’’
Rich Peverley sat out his second straight game last night because of an undisclosed injury. Peverley didn’t dress for last Friday’s win.
Peverley participated in yesterday’s morning skate, then remained on the ice for extra work following the session. According to Julien, Peverley will practice with his teammates today at Jobing.com Arena. Julien was optimistic that Peverley would be available Saturday.
With Peverley out, Zach Hamill was the right wing on the No. 3 line alongside Kelly and Benoit Pouliot. Hamill, who has filled in for Peverley and Campbell during his current call-up, has overtaken Jordan Caron on the organizational depth chart. Caron remains in Providence, partly to see game action with the AHL club.
“There’s four games in Providence this week,’’ said Julien. “It’s a good time for Jordan to play a lot. In regards to Zach, he’s played well. With what’s been going on here, he can play center and wing and be versatile. He’s earned it.’’
A Versus crew tracked Patrice Bergeron yesterday as part of “NHL 36,’’ a show that chronicles life of NHL stars. Chicago’s Patrick Kane was featured earlier this season. Bergeron’s episode will air Jan. 4 at 6:30 p.m. on NBC Sports Network, which will be Versus’s new name as of Jan. 2 . . . The Coyotes were without No. 1 goalie Mike Smith because of a groin strain . . . In the second period, Boychuk gritted his way after he took a puck to the groin. Boychuk, at times doubled over in pain, finished his shift, then tried to recover on the bench. On his next shift, Boychuk was called for tripping, earning a two-minute sitdown. Boychuk joked he took the penalty to gain more recovery time . . . Steven Kampfer was the healthy scratch . . . Last night marked Julien’s 600th career game as an NHL head coach.