RALEIGH — Defenseman Bryan Allen of the Carolina Hurricanes said there's nothing complicated about blocking a shot.
"It's being aware of where you are on the ice and having the (nerve) to do it," he said.
In truth, Allen didn't use the word "nerve" but an anatomical term. But the point was that putting your body in front of a slapshot in an NHL game is equal parts skill, timing, moxie and a willingness to take the pain.
How much pain?
"It depends on where you get hit," Allen said.
"I've broken my feet a few times, and toes," he said. "And ..."
Allen pulled down a sock to show a whitish lump on a leg that appeared to be bone trying to jut through skin. It's all a part of the hazardous duty of being a defenseman.
"We all know what frozen, vulcanized rubber feels like coming at you at 90 miles an hour," Canes defenseman Jay Harrison said. "It doesn't feel good. I was hit in the face once with a slapshot and will never forget the feel of hard rubber against skull.
"There's like a two-second window after the puck hits you where's there's nothing. Then it comes."
The Canes have been adept at blocking shots this season. Through Tuesday's games, Carolina was fourth in the NHL with 720 blocks and Allen's 102 blocks ranked eighth. Harrison has 79 blocked shots and defenseman Tim Gleason 74.
Allen had six of the Canes' 24 blocks Tuesday in the 2-1 shootout loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. A big one came in the second period, when Allen got in front of an Evgeni Malkin shot that might have beaten goalie Cam Ward and given the Pens the lead.
In the Canes' 2-1 win over Ottawa just before Christmas, the Senators' Sergei Gonchar was loading up a big shot early in overtime, only to have Gleason go down and take the full brunt of the shot.
Gleason later smiled when asked if the force of the shot might be similar to, say, a gunshot wound.
"I've never been shot before so that would probably be a little worse," Gleason said. "It hurts. But it's all part of the game. In my line of work, that's the way it goes."
Allen said blocked shots have become more prevalent since the lockout season of 2004-05, when the rules were changed to reduce the grabbing, clutching and general hand-to-hand combat being waged between defensemen and forwards.
"Before, it was battle and block out and cross-check and knock people down," he said. "Now, you can't keep holding on to the guy. You've got to change your approach, kind of let the guy go and front a shot. Every (defenseman) does it. Skilled guys are doing it."
More players blocking
Canes center Brandon Sutter, with 51 blocks, was the NHL leader among the forwards through Tuesday's games.
Carolina assistant coach Dave Lewis was a long-time defenseman in the NHL and has witnessed strategic changes in the game.
"There were a lot of blocked shots back then but I think it was more specific to a couple of players on a team," Lewis said. "Now I think it's more a theme of a team and some guys are better at it than others.
"Years ago, you might get two or three defensemen to do it and maybe two or three forwards on a team. Now, collectively, they're all more conscious of doing it."
Lewis noted there are different techniques in blocking shots. Some use a block-slide. Some prefer using their sticks.
"I'm not big on going down to block a shot unless I've got good backup behind me because I don't want to leave my feet," Harrison said. "If you've got a good stick you can get in the shooting lanes and block a lot of shots. I use a long stick and have to use it to my advantage."
But Lewis said good anticipation and technique are only a part of being a good shot-blocker.
"It's a skill where the first thing you have to be is courageous," he said.
Lewis, like most former players, can quickly recall the details of his worst experience of rubber against skull.
"Slapshot, deflection, penalty killing, directly to the cheekbone," he said. "Fractured orbital bone, nose, sinus."
All part of the hazardous job of blocking shots.