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.
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“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.”
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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.”