Who is on the Flames’ penalty kill?

The Calgary Flames are taking more penalties than they were a year ago. It’s one of several factors that explains why the 2015-16 edition of the team isn’t doing as well as the 2014-15 version, at least so far.

After all, when you take more penalties, it’s more likely you’re going to end up scored on. And when you have the level of goaltending the Flames did to start this season – which is to say, extraordinarily and unsustainably terrible – chances are pretty good a whole lot more pucks are going to go into the net.

That’s what’s happened. Although the Flames’ penalty kill hasn’t been particularly great as of late, it dropped to 74.6% this season from 80.6% the year before.

Other than save percentages, what’s changed between this year and last? We’re going to take a quick look at the skaters used on the kill to help find out.

2014-15 penalty kill

The Flames allowed the fewest power play goals in the NHL last season, but it wasn’t due to a formidable kill – it was due to simply not taking penalties. They were in the bottom 10 when it comes to actual percentages judging teams’ kills, so it’s not like there wasn’t work to be done there.

That said, the Flames did what they could, and that season, they did just enough for it to work out. Let’s take a look at who the heavy hitters on the kill were (re: a minimum of 30 minutes played), and how well they fared possession-wise.

flames pk 2014-15

From left-right we have players descending in terms of shorthanded ice time. Also, take note that the corsi percentages are rather low – this is what we expect, since chances are far more likely the puck is going to be aimed at your net rather than the opponent’s while you’re shorthanded.

A few factors immediately pop out, namely: three of the Flames’ best penalty killers were Joe Colborne, Josh Jooris, and Paul Byron. Byron is no longer on the team, so that’s a big knock against the 2015-16 penalty kill, particularly when you see he played a fair number of minutes. 

Jooris and Colborne, meanwhile, are still Flames, but they’re taking more penalties than they’re drawing, and of course, you can’t kill a penalty if you’re sitting in the box.

After those three, we can see T.J. Brodie is one of the better Flames when it comes to the kill, and it’s a good thing he played so many minutes on it. Mark Giordano is right up there with him.

There’s a pretty clear odd man out here, though: Lance Bouma. Bouma received major minutes on the kill, but he was one of the least effective penalty killers the Flames had. This would suggest that the Flames aren’t exactly missing him on the penalty kill this season despite the role he played the year before.

2015-16 penalty kill, one quarter through the season

flames pk 2015-16

The minimum standard of shorthanded ice time here is set at five minutes. Even though Bouma has been hurt most of the season, he was similarly valued for his presence when down a man as he was the season before; he just hasn’t had the chance to play as many total minutes.

While Bouma’s performance this season looks better compared to the year before, his corsi percentages haven’t really changed much at all – he went from 8.00% to 8.33%. Rather, it’s everyone else who seems to have come down to about his level.

(This is where I note that it’s incredibly early yet this season, and this chart likely won’t be indicative of the overall 2015-16 penalty kill.)

Jooris is performing relatively well, pointing towards the idea first brought up the season before that he’s a quality penalty killer; Colborne, on the other hand, is not meeting his performance from the previous season – a performance that may have come about due to a smaller sample size than the majority of his penalty killing teammates.

Michael Frolik has really come as advertised: a fantastic penalty killer. He is truly one of the Flames’ best, bordered by two of the Flames’ other defensive forwards in Matt Stajan and Mikael Backlund, who are posting similar results, although they’re not quite as good. Really, Frolik is second only to the little-used Dougie Hamilton.

Despite his early season struggles, Hamilton is the king of the Flames’ penalty kill at the moment, which makes it particularly curious as to why he’s received less shorthanded time than Deryk Engelland. Engelland has been having a resurgent season, but surely we can all agree he isn’t the defenceman Hamilton is – so why not try Hamilton when down a man more often? True, he takes a fair share of penalties, but so does Giordano, and Giordano is still receiving plenty of kill time. 

Kris Russell, at the moment, appears to be the only other defenceman performing particularly well on the kill; both Giordano and Brodie seem to be struggling thus far. This fits in line with Gio’s struggles this season overall, but not quite with Brodie’s stellar play.

Brodie isn’t the most concerning presence here, however: it’s Sean Monahan. He had a rather decent performance in 2014-15, but this season, the early returns are screaming for him to be taken off of the penalty kill. He’s hitting just 3.92% CF while playing shorthanded, and that’s completely unacceptable for the amount of time he’s being given.

Conclusions

Hamilton needs more time on the kill. His superior possession stats may be due to a smaller sample size than his teammates, but when he’s posting results like that, there’s really no justification not to give him a further look – especially when most of his fellow defencemen are struggling.

Russell has earned his place on the kill, however, and considering their performance the year before, Giordano and Brodie in particular deserve the chance to get back into their groove. Brodie’s minutes are hampered by his injury to start the season; maybe as he gets more time, his possession stats will increase.

Meanwhile, on the forward front, the penalty killers seem clear: Frolik, Stajan, Backlund, and Jooris. Maybe try Colborne out to see if he can recreate his magic from the previous season, but that’s about it. Monahan needs to be taken off of the unit, at least for the time being; and Bouma, when he returns, should not be one of the Flames’ top penalty killers by default – not when there are so many other better options available.