While fans and media alike foam at the mouth over scoring statistics, the Calgary Flames owe much of their relative success to an often overlooked faucet of the game — the blocked shot.
A quick glance at the individual league leaders in this bruised and rugged collection of players reveals that three Flames’ players are among the six most willing combatants to successfully block a shot. Chris Butler (186 blocked shots), Ladislav Smid (168) and Kris Russell (167) contribute largely to the Flames’ team success at blocking the second-most shots in the NHL, trailing only the Montreal Canadiens.
Traditionally, the lower in the standings a team finds itself will usually be accompanied by giving up a high volume of shots on goal. The Flames are 25th overall in the NHL standings, yet only six teams give up fewer shots per game than the Flames’ average of 28.1.
For a reference of contrast, the Toronto Maple Leafs yield an NHL-high average of 36.2 shots against per game. Over the course of a season, that means Maple Leafs’ goaltenders, assuming the numbers stay as is, will face 664 more shots over the course of the 82-game schedule than Calgary’s netminders. Even a respectable save percentage of 92 from the Jonathan Bernier–James Reimer tandem would still result in 53 more goals being scored on the Maple Leafs than the Flames, all things equal, thanks to the added shots faced.
For the Flames, this high volume of blocked shots has been critical to their accomplishments this season. The Flames have been, essentially, holding an open goalie contest over the course of the season. Karri Ramo (.912) and Joni Ortio (.891), the Flames two remaining in-house competitors for next year’s starting job, have benefited greatly from fewer shots getting through on target. As Ramo and Ortio become more accustomed to NHL-level talent and competition, one can only hope their save percentages will increase as they get more settled. Keep in mind, both Ramo and Ortio are very young in their NHL careers.
When it comes to the art of the blocked shot, the Flames, collectively, are second to one — much to the delight of their goaltenders.