Coach Joel Quenneville was diplomatic when talking about the penalty kill prior to the Blackhawks’ shootout loss to the Ducks on Friday night.
After that game, he was much more scathing.
“That’s when you hit rock bottom, when you score with one second to go on one power play when it’s been a disaster,” he said. “We can only go, from there, right up.”
It was a strong statement but also a truthful one. The Blackhawks’ penalty kill, which was ridiculously stingy last season, has been the exact opposite in 2013-14. It’s not quite last in the NHL right now – the New York Islanders hold that honor with a kill that’s only killing 70 percent of the time – but it’s still 29th, at 71.8 percent.
It’s not good. And it’s a reminder that, if you’re going to have one of your special teams departments working well, you want it to be the kill.
We’ve talked plenty about the power play, and about how you really don’t need it to be a successful team. The Blackhawks didn’t last season; they were ranked 19th overall on it during those 48 games. The Los Angeles Kings had the 17th-best power play during their Cup season and the Boston Bruins were 20th when they went on to win the Cup in 2010-11. And in the Blackhawks’ case, they’ve never had a problem scoring goals, especially 5-on-5.
But the penalty kill, or lack thereof, is pivotal. The Blackhawks have weathered it through most of this season, as they’ve stormed to the top of the Western Conference once again. But in their last three games, where they’ve gone 0-2-1, it’s loomed large. Dallas scored against it en route to a 4-3 victory. Minnesota scored two power-play goals, including the game-tying one, in their 4-3 victory over the Blackhawks on Thursday night.
And then there was Friday. The Ducks got a power play when Johnny Oduya was whistled for closing his hand on the puck – although it could’ve easily been a slash on the Ducks. But that’s moot. The Ducks, with one second remaining on their lone power play of the night, scored to take a 2-1 lead.
The Blackhawks continue to try and fill that penalty-killing void left by Michael Frolik’s trade. But does a penalty kill fall that far from one player’s departure? Doubtful. It’s been bad luck, bad coverage and that missing piece.
The Blackhawks had their rock-bottom moment on the penalty kill on Friday night. Quenneville’s right: there’s nowhere to go but up on it now.