How can the Calgary Flames maintain their penalty kill in 2023-24?

Photo credit:Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Ryan Pike
10 months ago
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It’s safe to say that not a lot went well for the Calgary Flames in the 2022-23 season. They didn’t get timely saves or goals at even strength. Their power play wasn’t all that good. A few key players faced some statistical regression, while some new faces struggled to adapt quickly to their new team.
But the one thing that consistently clicked for the Flames in 2022-23 was their penalty kill. With some changeover in their player and coaching personnel, how can the Flames keep their penalty kill effective in 2023-24?

A look back at 2022-23

The Flames’ penalty kill was coached by assistant coach Ryan Huska. They were 2nd in the NHL in expected goals against (per 60), 4th in high-danger chances against (per 60), 7th in goals against (per 60) and 5th in penalties killed percentage.
The Flames tended to use a rotation of three pairs of forwards with a rotation of two pairs of defenders. Generally, the three forward pairings were Mikael Backlund & Elias Lindholm, Trevor Lewis & either Tyler Toffoli or Blake Coleman, and Dillon Dube & Andrew Mangiapane. The two defensive pairings were usually some combination of Noah Hanifin, Chris Tanev, MacKenzie Weegar & Rasmus Andersson.
The tactical approach was generally a triangle (two defenders down low with a forward up top) with a rotating forward sweeper generating pressure on the puck carrier at the top of the zone – the approach is referred to as “the Czech press.” The system puts an emphasis on both forwards communicating well and knowing when to pressure and when to slide back into position. When it works well, it causes the other team’s power play to make quick, poor decisions in response to pressure.
The general idea behind the groupings seemed to be to use the team’s best defensive forwards initially to disrupt and frustrate the opposition power play unit, and then throwing the faster young forwards onto the ice against a tired power play group to generate counter-attacks later in kills. While that did happen, the entire penalty killing group seemed to embrace the disruptive, counter-punch “power kill” mentality, with six different Flames scoring shorties (and nine different Flames registering shorthanded points).

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In a season where a lot went wrong for the Flames, the penalty kill was something that could be consistently relied upon to give the team a boost.

Looking ahead to 2023-24

The new head coach of the Flames is Huska, and when you consider how effective the PK was… yeah, it makes some sense. Inheriting the penalty killing group is Dan Lambert, formerly the power play coach in Nashville and a coach that has a lot of experience and a lot of familiarity with Huska from their time together in Kelowna. Power play coaches tend to be pretty familiar with PK tactics, and it’ll be interesting to see if Lambert makes tweaks to the approach or runs it back with largely the same scheme.
In terms of personnel, both Lewis and Toffoli are gone, which potentially opens up time for some new faces to carve out niches on the PK. Lindholm and Backlund will likely remain stalwarts, but it’ll be interesting to see if any of the team’s young faces get a look – Walker Duehr and Jakob Pelletier got some PK time during their runs in the AHL, as did Matt Coronato in the NCAA, and giving these guys some special teams reps could help them boost their ice time.
The Flames had a superb, effective penalty kill in 2022-23. If they want to return to the playoffs (and perhaps make some noise once they get there), they’ll really need those special teams units to provide an impressive encore performance in 2023-24.

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