Hawks Insider

How Hawks are trying to get penalty kill back on track

/ by Charlie Roumeliotis
Presented By Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich
Hawks Insider
Chicago Blackhawks

The Blackhawks came out of the five-day holiday break hungry to get back to work but their return to play has been stalled due to consecutive postponements because of COVID-19-related issues.

While it's not an ideal situation, the Blackhawks are taking advantage of the extra practice time by ironing out some of the things that have gotten off track as of late. Specifically, the penalty kill, which they opened practice with on Monday and Thursday.

"We talked about it right before the break, that our goal was to use whatever practice we had to take advantage of time and really focus," Connor Murphy said. "We watched some more specific video before practice and had a lot of reps, as you could see to the start of practice. It's always nice as a penalty killer to do that, where you know guys' minds are strictly on that.

"It's hard sometimes where we have plenty of guys who play both units — power play and penalty kill — so they're trying to work on both sides in one practice."

Chicago's penalty kill has trailed off significantly since the start of the season. In the first 12 games under Jeremy Colliton, the Blackhawks had the fifth-best penalty kill percentage at 87.5 with just five goals against on 40 opportunities. They also ranked No. 4 in expected goals against per 60 minutes (5.36) and No. 7 in high-danger chances against per 60 minutes (13.5) over that span, according to Natural Stat Trick.

Since then, however, no team has a worse kill rate than the Blackhawks, who are at 68.0 percent with 16 goals against on 50 opportunities in the last 18 games. They also rank No. 29 in expected goals against per 60 minutes (8.0) and No. 24 in high-danger chances against per 60 minutes (24.4) over that stretch.

 

"It’s important to continue to get better, especially in the aspects that've been hurting you in games," Jake McCabe said. "That’s something that hasn’t been going our way the last little while here. We were good at the start of the year so we need to get back to that, find what we were successful at at the beginning and just continue to get back to the level. Being on the same page is very crucial for that, so these reps have been great for us."

Typically during the season, the power play gets the most work because the confidence you get from it when it's clicking spills into the 5-on-5 game. That's important for a Blackhawks team that's had offensive struggles all season long.

But it's also important not to neglect the penalty kill, and that's why interim head coach Derek King has made it a priority to spend some extra time on it before they get back into the flow of the season when there won't be much practice time.

"They look good," King said. "It's hard, we talked about it too, we always practice power play, and the power play gets frustrated because they can't score a goal and then you go into a game, and they're frustrated already from practicing it. But the PK is a little different. You don't practice it enough, if at all.

"Now we've actually broke it down where we're running a practice based on PK, so I think it went well. I liked it. I thought we did a real good job as PK guys. I don't want to take a lot of penalties, but you're bound to take one or two, and I like the fact that our guys are going into games now that they know their jobs on the PK."

The biggest area of focus? Being more aggressive in denying entries in the neutral zone and "not getting seamed" in the defensive zone, which usually occurs when a player drifts too high. Keeping the four-man unit tight and staying on the same page is vital.

"It does happen sometimes when you're struggling, letting up goals, your natural tendency is to sink and defend passively in certain areas on the ice," Murphy said. "Going back to being comfortable with your routes and pressuring and getting on top of their guys, whether it's in the neutral zone or as they're entering to make them have to dump it in and we can out-battle to get clears. That's a big key."

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