Outside of a goal, nothing brings a bench to its feet like the site of a teammate doubled over in pain.
“One of the things that you’ll notice on the bench is that when guys block shots the bench always cheers,” Nashville Predators coach Barry Trotz said. “It is a sign of commitment and the high value for the commitment from the [players] to the teammate that actually put himself in jeopardy to … make an effective play. It takes some courage.”
If that’s the case, then his team has been nothing if not brave thus far in 2011-12.
One bi-product of the fact that the Predators have been outshot in each of their first eight games has been an abundance of opportunities to block shots.
At the end of play Tuesday, Nashville was second in the Western Conference and sixth overall in total blocks this season. Four of the five teams that had more also had played at least one more game.
In terms of per game average, therefore, the Predators’ 16.8 was second only to Toronto (17.5). Their next opponent, Tampa Bay (7 p.m., Thursday, Bridgestone Arena), was the overall leader with 150 in nine games, a 16.7 average.
“I don’t know how much value you can put on blocking shots,” Trotz said. “But there’s a high value on it.”
While the blocked shot almost always produces a measure of ecstasy for rest of the team, it need not necessarily result in agony for the one who actually does it. There are ways to minimize the risk and limit the pain.
“You just try to get in front of it,” defenseman Kevin Klein said. “I use my shin pads. I use my skates a lot. As a [defenseman] you kind of sit back so you have a little more time to react and get in front of it. Then good sticks — if you’re going out to a guy try to get your stick in the way first to disrupt the shot.”
In just his fourth full season, Klein already is the voice of experience on the subject. Two years ago, he finished 22nd in the NHL in blocked shots and last season was ninth with a career-high 173.
Following Tuesday’s loss to San Jose, when he blocked two, he was among the NHL’s top 20 again with 19. He was second among the Predators only to his defense partner, Jonathon Blum, who was second overall with 27.
“Five-on-threes are probably the worst because guys are just teeing up one-timers,” Klein said. “You have to get in front of them to help [the goalie] out. A lot of times you know it’s coming and you brace for the worst.”
Tops among Nashville forwards is Jerred Smithson with 12.
He was sixth among all NHL forwards prior to Wednesday’s schedule although it was tough to imagine anyone had endured more pain in the process. In every game of last weekend’s road trip through Western Canada he hobbled to the bench at least once after having taken a shot in a less than desirable spot.
“I have a few little [bruises], but not too bad,” Smithson said. “It’s tough. There are different pieces of equipment you can add on to your skates or gloves but for the most part you try to get out to the shooter as much as you can.
“… You hope it hits you in the pads. You have to sacrifice, you have to get in the lane. But every once in a while it’ll catch you [in an area] with no padding. You’ll feel it for a while, but it’s part of the job.”
A part of the job that draws a big reaction.
“If they make a good play and you see [Smithson] dive in front of it, I mean the boys get fired up, everyone on the bench is yelling,” Klein said. “Guys like that, you see sacrificing their body — it’s awesome.”
• Martin Erat, who has been out since he sustained an injury in the season opener, skated on a line with David Legwand and Colin Wilson during Wednesday’s practice and looked ready to return to the lineup.
“He’s getting real close,” Trotz said. “I don’t know exactly if he’ll be in [Thursday], but we’re hoping one of these next couple games here.”
• Patric Hornqvist, who has battled injury through the first part of the season, did not practice. Trotz said he was held out for “maintenance.”