Alec Martinez and Derek Forbort often have a contest where the winner is usually the one with the most ice packs strapped to their body after a game.
The winner also might have to spend some extra time in the cold tub.
It’s a side bet between the Kings defensemen to see who can get the most blocked shots. Martinez has been difficult to beat this season because he ranked second in the NHL with 63 blocks going into Saturday’s game against the Ducks at Staples Center. Forbort ranked 12th, with 50 blocks.
So what does the winner get?
“It’s usually just dinner,” Martinez said.
With much of the conversation about the Kings centered on offense, defense is still a priority, and blocking shots is a part of what Kings coach John Stevens carried over from his previous tenure as associate head coach. The Kings rank 17th as a team in blocked shots (the Ducks are ninth), but have three of the top 12 blockers in Martinez, Forbort and Jake Muzzin.
Martinez has set the example, taking shots off his legs and chest and wherever else he can sacrifice. He was credited with eight blocks in a Nov. 16 game against the Boston Bruins.
“It starts here,” Stevens said as he pointed to his heart. “[He’s a] guy that has a lot of courage. I think good shot blockers want the puck to hit them, and Marty’s certainly one of those guys. He takes great pride in keeping the puck out of his net.”
Martinez is probably known more for his offense. He was the face of the 2014 Stanley Cup Final with his series-clinching overtime goal against the New York Rangers. But he had to forge a way into the NHL early in his career, puck by painful puck.
“Over a long time I was trying to get into the lineup or stay in the lineup, and I guess it’s just something I developed over time,” Martinez said. “I think the league’s taken more of a focus on it. I don’t know when they started keeping track. The bottom line is if you want to be good on the [penalty kill], the way things set up now, guys are going to have to block shots.”
Martinez remembers seeing former teammate Matt Greene take pucks off his face. Stevens often uses a less-painful training method in the form of foam rubber pucks to practice shot blocking. His staff also uses iPads behind the shooters to record the angles and shooting lanes to play back to the players so they can better understand positioning.
Martinez will sometimes take one side of the net away to minimize work for goalie Jonathan Quick.
“He just can just focus on short-side shots,” Martinez said. “If the guy tries to put it far, it should hit me. If it doesn’t, it’s my fault. I could write a paper [on it].”
Forbort’s approach is to go down on one knee. If it’s a point shot, he uses his legs. But, ultimately, it comes down to having the courage to stand in front of, say, Shea Weber of the Montreal Canadiens and his 100-mph shot.
Many defensemen wear skate guards to protect their feet. Ducks general manager Bob Murray requires his defensemen to wear them. Modern shin pads also help, to a point.