Capitals having a block party

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Cheers and Jeers,Sports,Brian McNally
No one watches more video of an NHL team than the opposing coach in a Stanley Cup playoff series. So through six games, Boston Bruins coach Claude Julien has seen more than enough of the Capitals to get a feel for what they're doing well. Among other things, that includes blocking shots. That's not something we heard much in previous postseasons.

"If you watch the game, they've adapted, to a certain extent, the New York Rangers' style," Julien said before Game 6 on Sunday, a 4-3 Boston victory. "They're just sitting back in their own end and just blocking every shot they can. You have to give them credit for that. Where we have to be better is we have to find ways to get around that."

The Rangers, the No. 1 seed in this year's playoffs, finished fourth in the NHL each of the last two seasons in blocked shots. That coaching staff challenges its players to do so. That's good, in a way. Blocks frustrate the opposition. But they have a down side, also. Block too many and that means you don't have enough puck possession. The top three teams in blocked shots this season -- the New York Islanders, Montreal Canadiens and Minnesota Wild -- all missed the playoffs.

It's also a good way to get your best players hurt. Rangers captain Ryan Callahan broke a foot blocking a shot in March 2011 and missed the Eastern Conference quarterfinal series against the Caps.

Washington blocked 22 shots in Game 1 against the Bruins, another 27 in Game 2 and 26 in Game 4. In each of those games, between 31.3 and 35.5 percent of all Bruins shots were stopped before even reaching goalie Braden Holtby. But Julien and his staff have made adjustments. The Caps blocked just 12 of 57 attempts (21 percent) Sunday.

"From the point, they're shooting it wide, missing the net more because they don't want to get it blocked," Washington coach Dale Hunter said. "And we do the same thing. Tell your 'D': 'Don't get it blocked.' You miss the first guy going out [challenging the shot], and that way it keeps away from your net, too. You don't get as many shots [against]."

- Brian McNally

bmcnally@washingtonexaminer.com

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