The Blackhawks' penalty kill started off the season as a special-teams force. Reliable and effective, it was nullifying opponents’ penalties at a high rate.
And after a few hiccups, it’s looking that way again.
The Blackhawks have killed off 18 consecutive penalties, some of them at very critical times, and are once again among the league’s best. Entering Tuesday night’s games, the Blackhawks’ penalty kill was ranked fifth in the NHL at 85.7 percent.
Defenseman Brent Seabrook said the kill has just gotten back to basics.
“(Assistant coach Mike) Kitchen’s been on us about getting back to our work ethic and how we’re playing it like back at the start of the year,” he said. “We were playing well and doing a good job and the PK was helping us out and winning us games to start. The same could be said lately.”
Yes, it can be. The Blackhawks haven’t had to go on the penalty kill recently – just one per game in four of their last five games. Still, whether they’re on it a lot or just a few times, it’s been in shut-down mode. And in a few of those instances, the kills have had to come at critical times. Last Saturday, up 1-0 in Nashville with about 12 minutes remaining in regulation, the Blackhawks went on a four-minute kill. Four minutes later, they were successful.
Defenseman Duncan Keith said it’s been a strong effort from everybody, from the goaltending to the guys who have made the PK their stock and trade this season.
“The goalies have made the big saves when we’ve needed them to and the PK’s done a good job doing what it’s supposed to do,” Keith said. “Guys like (Michael) Frolik and (Marcus) Kruger have taken that role to heart all season long and have done a good job for us.”
The fact that there have been fewer penalty kills also helps. The Blackhawks have the energy for effective kills, and aren’t getting worn out nixing a ton of them per game.
“That obviously helps,” Seabrook said. “It seems like there hasn’t been a lot called lately. Part of it is, it’s such an important part of the season. Points are critical and guys are being careful and smart and not getting themselves in penalty trouble.”
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Coaches always talk about how important special teams are, especially during the postseason. The Blackhawks’ power play has struggled lately. The kill, however, is right on target.
“It’s nice to see it doing well,” Seabrook said. “Goaltenders are a big part of it, too. We’re just trying to get in the way of pucks, let our goaltender see (the ones they need to) and get guys out of the way. Kitch has been harping on things that made us successful at the start of the year. We have to keep working hard on it, keep at it.”