Twelve in a row: who knew that penalty killing streak would mean so much to the Blackhawks at this point of the season.
The kill was an issue from the start. The Blackhawks, a team always so good at nullifying penalties, couldn’t stop anyone’s power play. But 11 games into the season the Blackhawks’ penalty kill is starting to look like its normal self again.
The Blackhawks have killed off 12 consecutive power plays, including three in their 4-0 victory over the Colorado Avalanche. Instead of giving up goals and losing momentum, as they did through too many early games, the Blackhawks are gaining steam and suppressing opponents’ power-play threats.
But as with anything, it wasn’t a matter of just one aspect of the kill improving.
“I think we’ve done a better job of clearing pucks, first and foremost. We’re working harder and smarter,” Duncan Keith said. “It’s probably a combination for a few different things. The biggest thing is Corey [Crawford’s] made a lot of big saves when we’ve needed him.”
There’s no doubt Crawford’s been critical to this process, and lately he’s been on top of his game be it the kill or 5-on-5. Besides his many stops lately (103 out of the last 104 shots he’s seen), Crawford’s also allowing few rebounds. When he does give up rebounds, the Blackhawks are sending them 200 feet the other way.
“It’s a lot harder when you’ve got to bring the puck 200 feet every time,” Crawford said. “We were getting the puck down. Everyone was on the same page and a little confidence, too, helps.”
[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]
Marian Hossa said the Blackhawks are applying the pressure at the right times, too.
“It’s smart pressure. It’s not just running around, but it’s smart pressure. When we can go, we go,” he said. “Also we’re more in shooting lanes, too. We’re blocking more shots and we go shorter. I think that’s the key.”
Percentage-wise, the Blackhawks’ penalty kill is still the worst in the league (61.5 percent); that’s the obvious effect of allowing 15 power-play goals through the first seven-plus games. But the kill is getting better again. Instead of giving up goals on it, the Blackhawks are gaining momentum off it.
“Better overall pursuit through the middle of the ice, in zone, more as a group and recognizing when it’s time to go and harder pressure when it’s there,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “I thought [Thursday night] was one of our better nights, PK-wise.”