NEW YORK — Josh Morrissey is one of three Winnipeg Jets who has not missed a game since last season — Blake Wheeler and Nikolaj Ehlers being the other two.
That the 22-year-old Morrissey hasn’t sat out due to injury is impressive considering the type of game he plays. Over that same time period, he’s fourth on the Jets in hits with 270 and leads the team with 293 blocked shots (He’s 12th in the NHL since last 2016-17).
Some of those blocked shots are of the fortunate variety where they might go off of Morrissey’s stick or a part of his skate where his shot blockers are, thereby decreasing the risk of injury. Others, of course, need to be absorbed by some part of the body, which is something that knocks players out of games on a nightly basis.
“There’s definitely been times over the course of the last few years where everyone in the room has little things bugging them,” Morrissey recently told Pro Hockey Talk. “But sometimes it’s sort of Murphy’s Law where all of a sudden you go down and you have protection pretty much everywhere and the puck seems to hit the one spot that’s open — so that can be a little bit frustrating, but nothing that a couple of ice bags can’t fix.”
To learn more about the skill of shot blocking, we chatted with Morrissey after a recent morning skate.
Q. When it needs to be a split-second decision, how are you able to recognize when you should block a shot or let it go through to the goalie?
MORRISSEY: “There’s times where I try to play with a desperation on defense where you don’t want to let any shots get to the net. There’s times where you have to block a shot, sometimes on the penalty kill or 5-on-5 where a guy’s coming and you see that it’s a dangerous shooting and you want to try to not allow that shot to get through. Obviously, it’s a split-second read. You try to put yourself in the best position as possible to be as protected as possible, but it’s something that I take pride in — not trying to let any shots up kind of thing. That’s something that I’ve worked up in my game.”
It’s chaos out there, so are you aware when you’re positioned in the sight line of the goaltender?
“Yeah, totally. It’s a thing we talk about and I think it’s similar for most teams. When you’re the D-man standing in front of the net and guys are shooting from the point or from far out, those are times where if it’s a wrist shot or something like that that you’re 100 percent sure you can get in front of, definitely get in front of it; but if it’s going to be one [that’s] sort of far away from you or it’s a slap shot that’s rising, those are the ones where you’re almost screening the goalie. I think those ones from farther out, unless you’re 100 percent sure that you’re going to block it, sometimes it’s best to get out of the way and try to box the guy out in front of you and try to give that sight line. Some wrist shots you can knock down and get going, but when the guy’s heat it up from outside, up top, it’s best to get out of the way for safety, and also just screening Helly [Connor Hellebuyck] or Mase [Steve Mason] or whoever’s in net.”
Is there a proper way to block a shot in a situation when you recognize it and have time to go down?
“If you watch a lot of guys, they sort of [take a] one knee down approach in certain situations. Obviously, you try to have your glove turned over so your hands not facing the puck — just little things like that. There’s lots of times where you go down, block the shot and you have protection in a lot of areas, but it just seems to hit the one area that’s not. A lot of it is luck and maybe a little bit of technique. I also think the closer you are to the guy, too. You can kind of make it so that you know the puck’s going to hit a certain area, whereas if you’re farther away there’s more time for it to go one side or the other, hit you in a spot you weren’t really ready for.”
Was this always part of your game or did it develop as you go into junior and into the NHL?
“Even in junior, we never kept shot blocking stats, but I don’t know if it was a huge part of my game. As time’s gone on, I’ve improved on it a lot more. It’s just sort of that attitude, trying to not allow any shots to the net. But it’s something you have to do as part of the game now and something that our defense as a whole take pride in doing it. Our whole team does. Most teams in the league definitely get fired up when a guy blocks a shot because they know it sucks sometimes, but it’s what you’ve got to do to win games. If you’re in the right position, you’re in the right spot, a lot of times you can just get your stick on it and not have to block the shot, but there are those times where you have to do it.”
[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]
Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.