Sam Bennett should be a fixture on the penalty kill

Since the implementation of Paul Jerrard’s more opportunistic, aggressive penalty kill we’ve started seeing a steady rise from among the league’s worst to about middle of the pack, which is a positive trend given how often this Calgary Flames team is penalized. It’s not perfect by any stretch of the means, but it’s on a good trajectory.

One major opportunity exists: elevating the second penalty kill unit to a higher level. To do that, it should include Sam Bennett as a near permanent fixture in place of Matt Stajan.

Bennett has been primarily deployed alongside Alex Chiasson, someone who you wouldn’t presume to be producing acceptable results 4v5 but is. The unlikely duo often sees scraps when it comes to PK deployment and to many, they’ve been a pretty effect tandem.

While Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik often take the bulk of the defensive zone starts to kick off the kill, Stajan and a variation of Troy Brouwer or Lance Bouma are the typical secondary unit that come out on the fly. And usually, if the first unit (Backlund and Frolik) aren’t deployed again after the second unit, Bennett and Chiasson eat up the scraps.

There is a variety of factors that initially led to this deployment scheme, but it’s stifling an opportunity to develop the second unit into a much more effective group that can suppress the opposition at a level that matches the first unit.

(All 4v5 data via Corsica.Hockey.)

pkforwards

Some important points to bring up from the shot data presented:

  • Despite the massive shift in Stajan, Brouwer, and Bouma’s deployments of starts vs on the fly they struggle in preventing shots. This is peculiar because from what data we have available there is some evidence to suggest OTF deployment typically impacts those results.
  • Bennett and Chiasson are nearly exclusively used in OTF solutions and it’s a huge factor in helping limit their overall shot metrics against.
  • However, it’s worth noting that they play similarly to the Backlund/Frolik unit and that also contributes to it.
  • With the duo’s usage being near the end of the kill – more often than not – the pairing is more likely to see final rushes, zone entries against, and less stress relative to the other units in dealing with the opposition’s power play.
  • If they can manage (which they have) with the steady progression they’ve been given then why not explore it more and more over the next stretch of games?
  • Why play Bouma at this point on the PK? He’s averaging 97.95 shots against (missed/blocked/on net) per 60 minutes of PK TOI. 

In recent games we’ve started seeing more of Bennett and Chiasson which is a good thing because their individual skill sets lend themselves to be ideal candidates for Jerrard’s system which typically employs the triangle +1 formation. A big part of why they’re seeing an increase in usage has been Brouwer’s injury, and penalty woes. In that time they’ve done pretty well in having limited amounts shots generated against:

bennydeploy

Not mentioned yet is the fact that over this stretch they’ve yet to be on for a goal against. Obviously it’s a seven game sample, but it’s another piece of the puzzle that supports exploring Bennett (and Chiasson) being utilized a bit more. This is an opportunity to maximize another skill set and facet of Bennett’s game to create additional value. It shouldn’t impact his long-term offensive upside or existing skills, but it will allow him to potentially develop another vital element to his game.

In the clip below, even though Chiasson and Bennett failed to capitalize on the 2-on-0, the prowess the two have developed in obstructing zone entries against and moving the puck up the ice is valuable to maximizing the penalty kill. Penalty kills aren’t about sitting back and surviving – unless it’s 3v5 – anymore. 

Aggressive penalty kills give you the opportunity to eat time off the clock, potentially score goals, and suppress the opposition’s power play because 

  • a) they aren’t in the zone as often, 
  • b) they are having issues setting up, and
  • c) you have the puck on your stick.

The era of having penalty kill specialists is quickly dying off, faster than ever, and more now than ever before teams are using their skilled players in this capacity. Giving Bennett a chance to play more in this role is a good thing and if the potential experiment ends poorly then you can say you at least tried to find hidden value in an already exciting, young, and talented player.

And hey, Chiasson, for all the flack he gets with his stone hands, isn’t a bad compliment to Bennett killing penalties. They work well together and any value you can squeeze out of depth players is an added bonus, too.

  • Ole YELLEr

    Really our main concern is Bennett isn’t getting enough pk time? Put Tkackuk with Bennet at even strength or on the PP give them a chance to do what they were drafted to do. I like short term results as much as the next guy but this isn’t likely to be the flames year. Build today for tomorrow, realistically Monahan and Bennet are our top two C’s moving forward yet Backlund gets better linemates and minutes and we wonder why Bennett/Monahan stagnate. Also this Bouma trashing should stop, separate the player from his paycheque since his return he’s the better player than Hathaway. If you want to revisit it in the offseason go ahead, now that his contract fits in our salary structure leave the dead horse alone.

    • The concern is the second unit (primarily Stajan/Brouwer or Stajan/Bouma) are not ideal because they surrender an abhorrent volume shots against within the confines of their deployment.

      The solution I proposed is giving Bennett (and Chiasson at this point) an opportunity replace them as much as possible because given their deployment and results so far they are better candidates to do that job.

      To reiterate the entire post: the goal is to suppress the opposition. Stajan, Brouwer, and Bouma in their current states do not do that, well enough, and relative to their peers.

      To the “Bouma Trashing” point. I don’t see how separating the player from his salary is an effective way of analyzing what he is: a fringe NHLer at this point. He doesn’t suppress goals, he doesn’t generate goals, and he doesn’t provide a measurable impact for his teammates.

      There is virtually zero value in playing him at 5v5 or on the PK.

      • One thing I;ve noticed about Chiasson that i like and its about the only thing I like in his game is how quickly he closes down the opposition on the PK and prevents them from gaining the blue line. Mike can confirm or deny but this imo is the point of the PK not to back off and *spits* block shots.

        Chiasson does this really well if you watch him closely. Bennett I havent noticed as much but I suspect with his speed he’s more capable of this than Stajan or Bouma.

        • Yeah, he’s becoming a fun player to watch on entry suppression and applying pressure be it on the forecheck, on the Czech Press (when the triangle +1 presses in on the puck carrier), and in a few other spots.

          Initially this season I wasn’t thrilled looking over his outputs and play from when he was with the Senators, but I think he was a byproduct of heavy usage on the PK (a not so great one), and definitely benefits from OTF deployment over starts.

          He has individual skills and assets that make him appealing when he’s in an environment that supports it.

          Bennett plays very aggressively and he’s starting to round out in the right ways for puck retrieval, applying pressure, and causing some distress on entries.

      • Ole YELLEr

        I think an obvious issue is that you put more weight into Corsi than I do. Without getting into it too much I think Corsi is flawed as a 5 on 5 metric, let alone 5 on 4. Using shot attempts vs for when one team has the man advantage while ignoring the short handed teams blocking of shots seems even more flawed. I will freely admit i’m not fluent in “fancy stats” but if I read ga60 correctly as goals against per 60 mins I’m not sure how Brouwer’s 5.41 is worse than Backlund’s 6.26. The main trend I see from that stat is that every player who isn’t Brouwer has a ga of over 6 until you hit players that have played less minutes. Yes, Bouma has less minutes than some below but that’s because of injuries. Or for that matter how much Bouma’s #’s are a reflection of the teams early struggles and what his post injury flames resurgence #’s are.

        I’m kind of getting side tracked here because now I’m all about the Bouma. My Bouma comments weren’t really directed at you or the other authors on this site they pertained more to other commentators.

        My main point is that I like Bennett on the pk and agree he should keep getting his minutes. However I think Gaudreau should return to Monahan’s wing and Bennett and Tkackuk should be reunited and be given a chance to succeed.

        However hooray beer and hooray Canada bring on the Yanks.