The Blackhawks’ penalty kill was not looking like itself for a few weeks.
Usually so strong, for a while it was a bane to the Blackhawks’ existence. It wasn’t reliable. It wasn’t strong. It wasn’t...killing.
But in the last few weeks the trend has reversed itself. The Blackhawks killed off 29 of 31 penalties over their final 11 regular-season games. Considering how many postseason games come down to one goal, and how big special teams are, the kill’s resurgence couldn’t be coming at a better time.
“We rely on that being a big part of our team success, knowing important times of games. Games are tied, the next goals are so important and the special teams can make the difference one way or another,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “We rely on our penalty killing to get us through some tough spots.”
Marcus Kruger returning certainly helped the kill but it’s been more than that. The kill has allowed fewer shots and has also been better at clearing pucks. That, and with each successful kill the Blackhawks’ confidence is growing. It’s a far cry from earlier in the regular season, when the Blackhawks struggled to get out of a kill without allowing a goal.
“There was a hiccup there for 15-20 games. We weren’t that great. But it seems like a few guys coming in through trades, also Krugs is back, it just seems like it’s clicking,” Andrew Desjardins said. “Obviously having special teams going, anytime anything’s going, that positive confidence you have. It’s always good to bring that into the playoffs.”
During the past three Stanley Cup-winning postseasons, the Blackhawks’ penalty kill has been Top 10. It was really great during the 2010 and 2013 runs (fourth and third in the playoffs, respectively). Those successful kills mean momentum at critical times.
“It’s so important for the playoffs,” said Marian Hossa, another critical member who’s about to return to the kill. “In one year because of the penalty killing [it] definitely helped us to win the Cup. It is important, just like the power play. But killing penalties is huge. It gives you so much extra jump after you kill a penalty in a crucial moment. It’s a key factor.”
The Blackhawks need to be at their best in every category during the postseason, but some perhaps even more than others. The kill is one of those parts of the game that’s extra important, and the Blackhawks are improving on it at just the right time.
“Paying attention to detail, awareness of where we’re at and what were trying to do in series with everybody making adjustments. I know these guys are pretty adaptive of moving around and doing different things,” Quenneville said. “We’ll need them to be good.”