The momentum started changing as soon as the final seconds of Dave Bolland’s minor ticked off the clock.
Not long after that successful Blackhawks penalty kill, Viktor Stalberg scored. Then early in the third period, with three seconds remaining on Brent Seabrook’s, Brandon Saad provided the short-handed game-winner.
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Yes, we’ve written a lot about the penalty kill already this season. But a year after it cost the Blackhawks so much, it’s become a massive part of their success. And on Friday night, when the Blackhawks set a new NHL record in their 2-1 victory over San Jose, the penalty kill was critical again.
“Special teams, a lot of nights, can be the differential. Tonight we definitely can say the key factor was our PK,” said coach Joel Quenneville following the Blackhawks’ league-record 17th consecutive game without a regulation loss to start the season. “We certainly got energy off the penalty kill, and nothing bigger than scoring a shorting in the third.”
Defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson said the PK provided energy after a lackluster start.
“The first period wasn’t our greatest one so far. But we got a couple PKs there and killed them off and played well. We got some momentum and the crowd started cheering again,” he said. “We stepped up a few levels there and put the game away.”
The Blackhawks’ improvement on special teams altogether has been impressive, but more so on the penalty kill. Ranked 27th in the league last season, the team’s kill is now ranked third (88.7 percent). It’s worked for a variety of reasons; one of the biggest is better goaltending. Both Corey Crawford and Ray Emery, who’s been great in the wake of Crawford’s upper-body injury, have been stellar.
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But it goes beyond the net. Hjalmarsson and Oduya have been notable defensemen on the penalty kill. Forwards Marcus Kruger and Michael Frolik have made it a big part of their hockey resume. And all of them, especially those who heard the penalty-kill criticism throughout last season, were determined to improve it this season.
“For sure, we wanted revenge,” said Hjalmarsson, who added that dedication to detail is a must for penalty-kill success. “It’s just being in shooting lanes, having a good structure, getting pucks out. And goaltending’s been unbelievable so far. There are a lot of elements.”
All the elements are working for the Blackhawks’ penalty kill. It’s gone from being a big hindrance to a big help. And with everything else the Blackhawks have accomplished thus far this season, the team commitment to the penalty kill has led them to success.
“It’s a huge part of the game nowadays,” Hjalmarsson said. “Usually there are five penalties a game, and if you always let in one or two like we did last year, it’s tough to get going. Now when our penalty kill has reached another level, we’re playing really well and being in shooting lanes and getting pucks out of the zone. We get momentum off it, especially (Friday’s) game but in others, too. It’s been really good so far.”