Penalty killing forwards

One of the most misleading stats in hockey is powerplay and penalty kill percentages because they are driven by variable stats like save and shooting percentage, which regress over time. For instance, a team might have a powerplay that’s generates only 1-2 scoring chances per game total, but they are clicking at a 25% efficiency because most of the shots they take end up being goals. That last sentence should tell you that they are getting lucky and how that plays a big role into how “good” or “bad” their powerplay may be. On the penalty kill, you could have a unit that manages to not allow any shots for a minute and fourty five seconds, then a harmless looking wrist shot from the point sneaks past the goaltender and the penalty kill gets tagged for a goal allowed despite doing just about everything right.

The goal of a penalty kill is to prevent as many shots and chances against as possible, which is why I look at those numbers instead for determining how good a team is in that area. Carolina appears to have the 26th ranked penalty kill with a 78.4% success rate according to this metric, which indicates that the PK hasn’t improved that much compared to last year. General observation tells you otherwise, which is why we need to dig deeper into the Canes PK to see how “bad” it really is. In terms of shots allowed per 60 minutes, Carolina has the 12th worst PK in the league surrendering about 53 shots per 60 mins. and while that isn’t good, it is a hell of an improvement from last season when they were the second worst penalty killing team in the NHL.

Defensemen are generally considered the main players on the penalty kill but forwards play a big role as well. It’s their responsibility to win battles along the boards, block shots, win faceoffs and clear the puck which are all critical when killing penalties. Outside of Brandon Sutter and Patrick Dwyer, just about all of Carolina’s forwards struggled at killing penalties last season so I wanted to look at their performance so far this season. There are also some personnel changes that have taken place over past year, so going deeper into the forwards performance on the PK will show how much of an effect they’ve had. The results may surprise you.

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To determine how effective a forward is at killing penalties, we’re going to look at their ice time to get an idea of their role, how many chances they gave up per 15 minutes of 4-on-5 play and how many shots per 60 minutes they gave up. It’ll be interesting to see if there are any players who are on ice for a lot of shots but not many chances.

Player PK TOI PK CA/15 SA/60
Eric Staal 31.63 5.217 39.8
Jussi Jokinen 32.82 5.484 31.1
Chad LaRose 25.15 7.157 40.6
Team Average 7.28
Tim Brent 38.47 7.401 53
Jiri Tlusty 27.48 7.642 56.8
Brandon Sutter 80.83 7.979 43.8
Patrick Dwyer 77.87 8.283 46.2

The team’s heavy-lifters on the PK are also the two players who are giving up the most chances. I know that is to be expected but I was hoping that Sutter and Dwyer would turn out better here. Although, they have been the only two forwards who have been used constantly on the PK and the Hurricanes have the fourth least amount of 4-on-5 time in the league, so that shows how heavily these two are being leaned on. Hell, Sutter’s played a little over 48% of Carolina’s PK time alone. This is only in comparison to the other forwards on the team, though. Both Sutter and Dwyer are playing above the team average of in terms of allowing chances and are also allowing less shots compared to others. Hopefully as the scoring chance project grows, we can see how they are performing compared to the league average. I’m going to assume that giving up a little over 8 chances per 15 mins. on the penalty kill isn’t spectacular, though.

Eric Staal has really upped his game on the penalty kill, an area which was awful in last season. Him and Jussi Jokinen have been fantastic on the second unit and I think cutting down Staal’s ice time has a lot do with his improvement. Staal was the fifth most used penalty killing forward last season, he performed poorly and the addition of Tim Brent allowed the coaches to take some pressure off him there. It seems to have worked as he’s playing a lot better. Jokinen’s always been a very underrated penalty killer in my opinion as he was good on the second unit last season and has carried it over into this year. I will say, I did not expect Staal and Jokinen to be the team’s best penalty killers even with the limited ice time but the numbers certainly do not lie here.

I wrote an article on how Chad LaRose needed to improve for the Canes penalty kill to turn around as he was very bad last season and while he’s performed about average this year, his responsibilities have diminished a lot. He was used on the first unit for most of last season (3rd highest PK ice time among forwards) and has been regulated to the second unit now and he’s not even used that much there. Another interesting fact here is that LaRose has always been praised for being more of a two-way forward with not much of an offensive upside, but we’ve been seeing a lot more offense from him this year than we have penalty killing.

Tim Brent and Jiri Tlusty have been performing below the forward average and the Canes appear to be giving up a ton of shots on goal when they are on the ice, too. Brent had a nice start to the season but his play on the PK has really taken a fall after October. Tlusty was a new addition to the PK this year and he’s playing about what you’d expect from a guy who usually doesn’t kill penalties.

One suggestion I would make to the penalty kill is adding Andreas Nodl to one of the second units. He wasn’t one of Philly’s top penalty killlers but he could fit in well on the second unit here. He is known mostly for his defense and did a solid job at preventing shots on the PK with the Flyers last season. Just take a look at Tlusty’s numbers again. Do you really think he can be worse than that? He’s worth a shot. Plus, let’s be honest, Nodl hasn’t been doing much at all at even strength and if we want to get the most out of him, I think giving him a test on the PK would be a great idea.

Through shot and scoring chance metrics, we can conclude that the Canes are relying heavily on two forwards to kill penalties but some of their weaker penalty killers from last year have improved a lot and that has played a role in the team’s PK being better. Also, the team’s forwards have been better at killing penalties compared to the team average which shows that the team’s improvement of the PK has a lot to do with the forwards. To be things bluntly, the PK has improved but there’s still some work to do.