Blackhawks' PK stays strong through changes


Blackhawks' PK stays strong through changes

When the Blackhawks went through their salary-cap changes last summer, they knew their roster would change. They would have to reconfigure lines and defensive pairs.

The same was true for their penalty kill, which has been ranked in the league’s top 10 since the 2012-13 season. Gone were Johnny Oduya and Brandon Saad, two key parts of the kill, and the Blackhawks had to find players to fill those voids. But in this early portion of the season the Blackhawks’ kill, thanks to young guys who were already here or acquisitions, has done just fine.

In nine games the Blackhawks have killed off 22 of 25 power plays, including three vs. the Anaheim Ducks on Monday night. They’ve allowed just one power-play goal in their last 13 kills, and that was with 10 seconds remaining on a 5-on-3 against the Florida Panthers. The Blackhawks have had a rather smooth transition despite losing some good killers to trades and free agency, and being without defenseman Duncan Keith. Acquisitions Artem Anisimov and Ryan Garbutt, as well as young players like Trevor van Riemsdyk and Viktor Svedberg, have helped the Blackhawks’ established penalty killers continue strong work.

[MORE BLACKHAWKS: Corey Crawford comes through again]

“I think they’ve adjusted well,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “They’re all getting more in tuned to where they need to go, when to pressure, when to be patient. But it’s nice when you’ve got four groups – [Marcus Kruger and Andrew Desjardins] usually go one and three, but some nights those guys take penalties, as well. You can never have enough guys up front that can be utilized in that situation, so we know the importance at the end of it.”

Jonathan Toews was especially complimentary of how Garbutt and Anisimov have helped the kill.

“Him and Arty, they’re obviously two great skaters. It’s nice to have those two extra guys who can skate and play smart defensively in the rotation,” Toews said. “It keeps a few more guys involved in the game and obviously in a game like [Saturday vs. Tampa Bay] or even against Florida, where we run into some penalty trouble, we keep our legs fresh when we’re killing and we go back to 5-on-5, too.”

Garbutt, who came to Chicago from Dallas last summer, said the Stars tried to mimic the Blackhawks’ penalty kill. Since joining it, he’s been learning from Kruger and Desjardins.

“They kill penalties so well; you just try to follow their lead,” said Garbutt. “It’s instinct but also being patient, not running out of position, taking away the passes you don’t want them to make in zone and pressuring when you can. You don’t want to give away too much.”

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

Instinct, system and patience are big factors in a successful penalty kill. So is communication. No matter who’s on the kill, everyone makes a vocal effort to be on the same page.

“We talk a lot. We talk before games, scout out other teams. But after every shift we talk about something we can do a little bit better, or if we did something good there,” Kruger said. “That’s a big part, communication on the PK.”

The Blackhawks’ penalty kill has been strong for several years now, and they wanted it to stay way through the personnel changes. So far, they’ve done that.

“I think it’s been all right. We gave up a few goals, a 5-on-3 goal and stuff like that, but overall it’s been an OK start,” Kruger said. “That’s the process of getting better and better all year. It’s a good start and we try to get better here every day.”

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Senators

NBC Sports Chicago

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Senators

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Ottawa Senators tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Trade chips.

The Blackhawks have reached the point in their season where they have no choice but to become sellers before the Feb. 26 deadline, and we saw that when they traded Michal Kempny to the Washington Capitals on Monday for a conditional third-round pick in 2018. Tommy Wingels could also be an attractive piece for a team looking to fill out their depth.

The Senators will definitely be sellers, and wow do they have some names potentially on the market that can fetch large returns: Derrick Brassard and Mike Hoffman are two players who log top-six minutes on a nightly basis and also have term left on their contract, which is great for teams looking to load up for this year and beyond.

The biggest name to watch, probably in the league altogether, is Erik Karlsson, who could be on the move if a team offers a big enough package for the Senators to pull the trigger now as opposed to in the offseason if they feel him re-signing is a long shot. He was the best defenseman last season, and if a team steps up to get him, they're getting two possible postseason runs out of him.

2. Artem Anisimov's experiment at left wing not working.

Joel Quenneville has tried rekindling the magic between Anisimov, Nick Schmaltz and Patrick Kane as of late, only this time Anisimov is playing the wing and it just hasn't been very effective. The trio was on the ice for each of the two 5-on-5 goals the Kings scored on Monday, and Anisimov completely lost his man on the first one.

It's important to establish a consistent left winger for Schmaltz and Kane, and maybe putting Alex DeBrincat up there is something you consider going forward as part of a long-term solution. Move Anisimov back down as the third-line center to play in more of a defensive role and continue using his big body on power plays for his offensive abilities might be the best bet.

3. Win the special teams battle.

In their last meeting against Ottawa on Jan. 9, the Blackhawks went 4-for-6 on the power play and 4-on-4 on the penalty kill in an 8-2 win. And those are two areas to look out for again.

The Senators own the 28th-ranked power play with a 16.1 percent success rate and 29th-ranked penalty kill with a 74.5 percent success rate. Get ready for another offensive outburst?

Podcast: Which Blackhawks could be on the move before trade deadline?


Podcast: Which Blackhawks could be on the move before trade deadline?

On the latest Blackhawks Talk Podcast, Adam Burish and Pat Boyle discuss which Blackhawks could be on the trading block and what players are building blocks for the Hawks future.

Burish also shares a couple memorable trade deadline days and his “near” return to the Blackhawks in 2012. Plus, he makes his bold trade deadline prediction for the Hawks.

Listen to the full Blackhawks Talk Podcast right here: