Marcus Kruger (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
The Chicago Blackhawks may be struggling to win games as of late, but one area that they are certainly not coming up short in is their penalty killing game.
Yes, they are still 26th in the league, only killing off 79.6 percent of the power plays that they face, but over their past eight games, the Hawks are a perfect 23-for-23 on the kill. That success has kept them in quite a few contests, and despite their 3-2-3 record overall in those games, they have got to be feeling pretty optimistic about the progress that the penalty kill has made.
Part of that success has been the re-emergence of the key element of the team’s success in that area, which was so prevalent last season: pressure from forechecking forwards. Whether it’s the Jonathan Toews/Marian Hossa combo, or Marcus Kruger and his rotating crew of helpers, including Michal Handzus and Ben Smith, the forwards have been a lot more aggressive in recent games in attacking puck carriers at the blue line, and the results have spoken for themselves with the improved success that they are seeing.
The Blackhawks have also been getting some really good efforts from their blue liners too. While the Hawks’ discipline at even strength has been lacking at times in recent games, their penalty killers are playing very smart defense. They’re not over-pursuing the puck behind the net, they aren’t committing too many guys to one side of the ice, and most importantly of all, they are clearing the puck when they get the chance, and the success has been apparent.
Aiding the Blackhawks’ resurgence in this area of their game, so critical to their Stanley Cup success last season, has been the fact they have been playing some weak power play teams. Clubs like the San Jose Sharks and Vancouver Canucks have both been dominant in that area of the game in recent years, but this season has not been kind to them.
In fact, of the eight teams that the Hawks have played during this penalty killing bonanza, they have only faced one top-10 team (the Boston Bruins, who have the 6th-ranked power play in the league), and they have faced six teams in the bottom half of the league on the power play (the Anaheim Ducks are the only other team they’ve faced in the top half, checking in at 14th).
Even with that caveat in mind, it’s the execution of the team, both among the forwards and the defensemen, that has been instrumental in their recent turnaround. That aggressiveness by the forwards and discipline by the blue liners is a good sign for a team that just couldn’t seem to get their penalty killing sorted out in the early going this season, and if they can continue to make this kind of progress, then they should eventually see more victories as a result of this type of improved play.