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PK Vital To Success In Playoffs

Friday, 04.30.2010 / 2:53 PM / Features
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PK Vital To Success In Playoffs
A good penalty kill is a valuable asset to any team\'s success, and it takes all kinds, from star players to role players to the goalie.
Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa were part of the Blackhawks' strong PK unit this season.

Penalty killing is not glamorous work, and it doesn't enhance individual statistics. It's about taking away time and space on the ice and blocking shots. It's about keeping the score where it is during a two-minute onslaught, attempting to steal away momentum as play resumes.

It's about winning games in the playoffs. Latest example? Thursday night in San Jose, where the Sharks converted 2-of-6 power plays in a 4-3 Game 1 win while Detroit went 0-for-5 with a man advantage.

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"Five on four, you just want to outwork those guys, keep better energy and try to create momentum off the penalty kill if you kill it," said defenseman Brooks Orpik, one of Pittsburgh's leading penalty killers and shot blockers whose team resumes action tonight in Game 1 (7 ET, Versus, CBC, RDS) against the surprising Montreal Canadiens (who, to the point, have worked a successful power play this season). The Penguins had the NHL's ninth-best success rate at killing penalties in the regular season, checking in at 84.1 percent.

On the other side of the ice, the Canadiens posted a severely restrictive number in their first-round series against Alex Ovechkin and President's Trophy winner Washington. The Caps scored on one--as in singular--of 33 power-play opportunities in the seven-game series.

Penalty killers are a special breed, ranging from star players to role players. Veteran center Jay McClement scored 29 points in 82 games for the Blues, but it was his knack for killing penalties that defined his true value to his team. McClement led all NHL forwards in shorthanded time on ice per game (3:44), and was one of nine forwards to top three minutes per game killing penalties, leading a group that includes Todd Marchant, Jordan Staal, Blair Betts, Vernon Fiddler, T.J. Galiardi and Chris Drury. All these players either have a great set of wheels to close gaps and create scoring chances on turnovers, and/or have a dogged determination that makes them a pest to play against.

Aside from leading the Canadiens in regular season scoring with 70 points, Tomas Plekanec all lead all team forwards in penalty killing ice time per game, averaging 2:44. Along the way to producing a career-best 75 points, Vancouver's Ryan Kesler received 2:39 per game shorthanded. Marian Hossa of Chicago, one of the most accomplished goal scorers in the League, placed second among all forwards with 6 shorthanded points (5 goals), trailing only Alex Burrows (7 points) who led the Canucks with 35 goals.

"Try to limit their scoring opportunities. You're just trying to cut down the percentage of their shots," said Kings defenseman Rob Scuderi.

"You're playing against the best players on their team, the best players on the ice, and you have to look at it as doing your part to help the team win."

Of course, your best defense -- in all situations -- is a good goaltender. To support the goalie, a penalty killing unit will block shots, clear the crease and make sure it's goaltender has a good view of the shooters as they take aim on net.

"The penalty kill, just like the power play, can make or break the game," Bruins netminder Tim Thomas said.

"Our blocked shots are usually at our feet, which makes it tough for the other team," Ryan Miller of the Sabres said. "But we've done a good job of saving the hard ones."

After making the big block, it helps if the penalty killers can not only clear the puck but carry it out of the zone and create a scoring opportunity.

"You turn it around and score on them, it's a good momentum boost for the team and takes the wind out of their sails a bit," Kings goalie Jonathan Quick said.

One of the biggest factors in the remarkable turnaround of the Coyotes from League doormat to 107-point playoff contender is success on the penalty kill. In 2008-09, they finished 28th in the League with a poor success rate of 76.8, permitting 68 power-play goals against. With a new coach, Dave Tippett, and a few new faces, Phoenix had the NHL's sixth-best penalty killing unit in 2009-10 with an 84.5 success rate, allowing 49 power-play goals against.

Brent Sopel
In the regular season, Chicago had the NHL's fourth-best penalty kill at 85.3 percent. In the Western Conference Quarterfinals against Nashville, that dominance continued as the Blackhawks killed off 26 of 27 power plays to out help eliminate the Predators in six games. Coach Joel Quenneville praised the work of veteran forward John Madden, now in his first season with the Blackhawks.

"We've got some experienced guys," Quenneville said. "I think Johnny Madden helps with his experience. It starts right off the faceoff dot and goes right out to trying to alleviate those guys getting set up in our zone, to blocking shots, to clearing the pucks to the goalie making key saves.

"The enthusiasm of having three pairs up front that are moving and going short (shifts), the whole group has some cohesiveness and they have pride in not getting scored upon."

Defensemen Brent Sopel and Niklas Hjalmarsson should not be overlooked, with 21 and 14 blocked shots, respectively, in the Nashville series. Both played over four minutes a game in shorthanded situations.

"You have to have a good penalty kill," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "Come crunch time in big games, they're mandatory for keeping the other team's best players off the board. I don't think you see very many good playoff teams without a good penalty kill."

Contact Rocky Bonanno at rbonanno@nhl.com

Author: Rocky Bonanno | NHL.com Staff Writer