ALL YEAR long, Flyers defenseman Nick Grossmann has been among the league leaders in blocked shots, which is laudable given that a concussion caused him to miss the final 18 games last season.
Most of the world would see this as somewhat insane. But to his teammates, particularly the goaltenders, Grossmann's eagerness to put himself in harm's way elicits admiration.
"There was one instance this year," goalie Steve Mason recalled, "he made three blocks in a row and I told him afterward, 'I might as well get off the ice, because you don't need me out here.' "
Grossmann said the Flyers' missing the 2013 playoffs was a personal blessing because the loooong summer allowed him to rest and recover. There was no postseason for him to try to come back to too quickly.
He has played in all 19 games this season and came into yesterday tied for seventh with 51 blocks - a little more than 2 1/2 per game.
"He's gone through a lot and overcome a lot," Mason said. "For him to just go out there and not have second thoughts about going down in front of these guys that are shooting 100 miles per hour, shows the character that he has. It's great to have a guy back there that isn't scared to get in front of the puck."
Grossmann, 28, gets $3.5 million annually to absorb this punishment, a relative bargain given how valuable he has been as the Flyers (7-10-2) tiptoe up the ladder toward playoff contention. Teammates remark that Grossmann is extremely difficult to play against, which is probably the highest compliment a defensive defenseman like Grossmann could receive.
"Any team wants a guy like that," coach Craig Berube said. "He's the kind of guy you need out there to shut down other team's players. With his size, he can go against the big guys, which is good. He's nice to have."
Grossmann has been paired lately with Mark Streit, a 7-year pro in his first season in Philadelphia. Streit, who is looking for his first goal as a Flyer, is more of an offensive defenseman than Grossmann. He's fluid with the puck, knows his way around the power play.
"I think the combination works pretty well," Streit said. "It makes my game easier and that's what you're looking for in a d-partner. You know exactly what he's doing."
It remains to be seen whether Grossmann's reliability and fearlessness will translate into his first Olympic berth, but teammate and fellow countryman Erik Gustafsson said their national team sure could use him.
"I think for Sweden, we're going to have a pretty young team so I think it would be great to have a leader such as him," Gustafsson said. "He's always calm, never stresses out if things go bad. I think that affects people in a good way."
The Olympics are Feb. 7 to 23 in Sochi, Russia, and Sweden figures to have a solid group of defensemen. Erik Karlsson (Ottawa), Niklas Kronwall (Detroit), Oliver Ekman-Larsson (Phoenix), Alexander Edler (Vancouver) and Victor Hedman (Tampa Bay) are among other top NHL defensemen of Swedish descent. Look for rosters to be announced on or around Jan. 1.
For his part, Grossmann is deflecting away Olympic talk like a Sidney Crosby slap shot.
"My focus is here right now with the Flyers and that's how it has to be," Grossmann said. "If the [Swedish Ice Hockey Association] reaches out to me, then I'll start thinking about it. For now, it's all about the Flyers and the task we have at hand here."
The Flyers start a three-game home trip tonight when Ottawa visits the Wells Fargo Center. South Jersey native Bobby Ryan leads the Senators with 10 goals . . . Philadelphia hammered Ottawa, 5-0, last Tuesday in Ontario . . . The Flyers are just 3-7 at home this year. Only Buffalo (2-8-1) has a worse home record among Eastern Conference teams. The Flyers host Buffalo on Thursday and the Islanders on Saturday. All three games on this homestand start at 7 p.m.