Let’s Talk About The Penalty Kill

We’re a third of the way through the 2015-16 season for the Calgary Flames, and I think one thing is abundantly clear: the team’s penalty killing is truly awful. The larger question is “why?”

Well, to be blunt, it’s bad enough that we can localize all types of reasons why the penalty killing is so bad. Let’s run through them, shall we?

THEY GET SCORED ON EARLY

The Flames have given up 22 goals on their penalty kill. Of those 22 goals, 10 of them have been in the first 30 seconds of a penalty kill. In other words, they lose a draw, the other team’s PP gets set up, and it’s in the back of the net before you can even cue up the Price Is Right sad failure music.

Want some examples? Here’s how long some kills have lasted: 3 seconds, 9 seconds, 10 seconds, 12 seconds, 13 seconds… That’s incredibly fast, and it leads to our next stop…

THEY GET SCORED ON BY THE FIRST SHOT

This goes hand-in-hand with the previous point. The Flames quite often get scored on by the first shot or shot attempt against them by the power-play. How often? On 10 occasions the first shot on goal has gone in, while on five occasions the first shot attempt (including blocked or missed shots) has gone in. So some of the struggles for the penalty kill are a result of iffy goaltending or iffy defensive schemes (that lead to high-percentage chances) or both.

THEY’RE STRUGGLING AT FACE-OFFS

Matt Stajan has won 51.7% of his face-offs on the penalty kill. Everyone else? Struggling massively.

Mikael Backlund has won 35.5% of his PK draws. Josh Jooris has won 39.5% of his PK draws. And young two-way center Sean Monahan has been AWFUL, winning just 30.6% of his PK draws. Would it shock you to learn that the Flames tend to get scored on quite often when those three guys are on the ice on the PK?

Stajan’s winning percentage has improved a bit (up from 45.5% last year), but Monahan’s numbers have crashed and burned compared to his 47.5% last season. Backlund and Jooris are both down around 5% from last season. Needless to say, team-wide their numbers are down: from 43.5% last season to 38.6% this season, which has contributed to the fast goals against them.

THEY HAVE ISSUES WITH ZONE EXITS

Another big issue? Even if they can gain control of the puck in their own zone, they have challenges getting the puck out. They’ve had the same issue at even-strength, but failing to go “glass and out” consistently at 5-on-5 isn’t always a death sentence. But when the other side has more shooters than you have defenders, breakdowns such as those can be back-breakers.

THESE AREN’T BIG THINGS

Collectively, Calgary’s struggles on the PK are huge. They’re costing them wins and points and eroding the team’s confidence in a key area. Being bad on the PK impacts a team’s confidence, and impacts their willingness and ability to really commit to physical play – because “Oh man, what if I go too hard and take a penalty, we’ll get scored on and lose!” So guys reel in the physicality a bit, which can lead to the team giving up the center of the ice too much or giving the other team too much room to maneuver.

They’re putting the same personnel out there as they did last season – sub out Paul Byron for Michael Frolik, Lance Bouma for a rotation of wingers and amp up Kris Russell’s ice-time a bit – and they’re rolling the same system. And outside of Bouma and Byron’s absence making the system seem a bit more passive than last season – the players they’ve subbed in for them haven’t been as active at generating turnovers and rushes the other way from forechecking at the blueline – they’ve been attempting the same basic scheme as last season (according to Bob Hartley and the players I spoke with).

But ultimately, what ails the Flames on the PK isn’t a massive systemic
issue: it’s an inability to execute the little things, and those little
things are snowballing on them and costing them games.

IN THEIR OWN WORDS

Prior to the Flames/Rangers game, I had the chance to chat with a couple Flames about the penalty kill.

“We just need to be a little better in those details,” said Michael Frolik. “Blocking shots… I think we give up too many shots from the middle. I think it’s better when you give up the shots from the sides. We just need to make sure that we block those shots. We need to battle on the face-offs, too. We need to start winning more face-offs. It’s a big key. If you can clear the puck and go after them on the forecheck, and that’s where they get the full position, off the face-offs.”

“In-zone, it’s pretty much the same,” said Deryk Engelland, comparing the PK system this season to last season. “I think most of the penalty kills in the league, bobble the puck, everyone’s going, pressure. I think we’ve got to do a better job of fronting shots and not giving that clear shot from the middle. Maybe tightening up in front of our net, make the guys get through instead of giving them a clear lane.”

  • Colin.S

    The Flames current 70.3% PK is historically bad. It is almost a full 3 or 4 points less than the next worst PK team since the lockout. I don’t get how the Special teams coach hasn’t been fired yet, cause the only thing special is how historically bad the special teams is. A team that can ice a PK unit of Backlund+Frolik, Gio+Brodie shouldn’t let in goals that fast on a PK.

    • Colin.S

      Oh yeah, the goalies suck to and have a big impact. There are 72 goalies who have played a game in the NHL this year, the Flames goalies rank 58, 70 and 71 in SV% out of 72 goalies (their PK SV% is very close to those ranks as well).

      This team would be in a much better position if they had an AVERAGE NHL goalie and even a below average penalty kill. As it stands, the worst goaltending in the NHL and worst special teams are sinking the Flames.

  • The Last Big Bear

    You could have a PK of Lidstrom – Orr – Gainey – Gretzky, and it wouldn’t do a lick of good if they were getting goaltending like the Flames have had this season.

    The old euphemism goes “Your goalie needs to be your best penalty killer”.

    Ramo has had some quality starts in the last two weeks, but overall the Flames have had horrifically bad goaltending.

    Yes, there have been other issues with the team, but those are pretty much insignificant next to the goaltending issue.

  • Colin.S

    Well for starters Bouma out makes a difference. And lack of Byron and his killer speed makes a huge difference. Just the threat of that speed makes them think twice.
    I loved Byron on the PK. What were they thinking?
    Our next best hope for replacement speed is Mangiapani.
    Gad!!!

  • DestroDertell

    “But ultimately, what ails the Flames on the PK isn’t a massive systemic issue: it’s an inability to execute the little things, and those little things are snowballing on them and costing them games.”

    Um, yes it’s a massive systemic issue. Even when we had better goal tending and Byron, the PK% was still bottom 10 in the league. Losing Byron was HUGE because he was probably the best PKer in the league (since 2012-13, he ranks 2nd best in GF% of all NHL skaters).

    The Diamond PK formation gives the opponents three lanes by design. The QB of the opponents’ PP has three players he can give a quick pass to because they’re completely left alone, aside from that one guy that always end up near the net. It’s the kind of thing that spell trouble. See Shark’s first PP goal of the first game for a good example.

    This year, they’re the team that has allowed the highest high-danger and scoring chances rate, so it’s not all on the goaltending – even though they’ve been horrible PKer as well, esp. Hiller.