The successes and failures of the Canes PK

In my recap of Monday’s win over the Montreal Canadiens, I said that the Canes had two of their worst performances on the penalty kill along with one of their best. Overall, they were burned for two powerplay goals in the second period, gave up four scoring chances and nine shots on about six and a half minutes on the PK, which is pretty bad overall. Most of that damage came in the first two periods, though. In the third period, the PK pulled a complete 180 and had two of their strongest penalty kill efforts of the season, one of which led to a shorthanded goal. The PK really stepped up when they were clinging onto a 4-3 lead and that counts for a lot. It was definitely a strange game and the Jekyll/Hyde like performance from the penalty kill just added to that. After the jump, we are going to take a look at what the Canes PK did right and wrong in Monday’s game.

First, we’re going to look at some of the PK gaffes and the biggest one was on the David Desharnais goal which gave the Habs a 3-2 lead in the second period. This is a perfect example of a team being mesmerized by the puck and forgetting to cover their assignments.

To add some context to this situation, I should mention that the Habs had the puck in the Carolina zone for roughly 30 seconds so the Canes penalty killers were already tired. In the picture above, we see Tomas Kaberle pinching in the offensive zone which causes Chad LaRose and Jussi Jokinen to converge on him. Kaberle does a good job at drawing attention to himself here because it helps create space for the other players. However, you will notice that Jokinen does a good job at not being too drawn into Kaberle here as he’s stays in the slot for most of the time.

Kaberle acts like he is going to shoot (where have we seen that before?) and gets the attention of Tim Gleason as he goes towards the net. However, Kaberle does his patented fake shot-pass and gets the puck over to an open Max Pacioretty at the side of the net. Fortunately for the Canes, Gleason sees this and manages to defend Pacioretty well here. LaRose, however is still wrapped up in Kaberle and Jokinen is too far away from the puck to do anything. Why is this a problem? You’ll see.

Pacioretty’s shooting lane was blocked off by Gleason, so he decides to take his time and look for other options. He decides to get the puck back to the point where PK Subban and his big shot are waiting. Meanwhile, Montreal forward David Desharnais slips into the picture and every single Carolina player is either watching the puck or the point (where the puck is going) because they are too concerned about the shot coming from Subban. This is where things go awry.

Here comes the shot from Subban and you will notice that just about every Carolina player is lined up in the slot trying to keep it from getting through. Remember, Desharnais is still sitting at the side of the net uncovered so if the shot does get to Ward, bad things are going to happen.

Subban’s shot gets through to Ward, and a rebound is produced. Unfortunately, the rebound goes right to Desharnais and all he has to do is control it and sneak it by Ward for a lay-up. Notice how Gleason, Jokinen and Allen are all standing in the slot because they were all watching the puck instead of covering the side of the net. Gleason is the more guilty party here than Allen because the latter was wrapped up with Erik Cole at the front of the net. Gleason’s job was to cover the other part of the crease and instead, he was caught following the puck and this happened.

Ward is caught out of position and Desharnais scores a powerplay goal on a lay-up to make it 3-2 Habs.

This all started when Kaberle got the puck deep and made the pass to Pacioretty behind the goal-line. The Canes penalty killers became too concerned with where the puck was that they completely ignored a Montreal player getting open at the side of the net. Mistakes like that happen on the penalty kill because you are out-numbered but still, Gleason should have been covering the side of the net here. It would have made things a lot more difficult for Desharnais. I understand that he was concerned Subban’s bomb from the point but a shot from that far away has much less chance of going in than a rebound from the side of the net.

That certainly was an ugly penalty kill and about what you would expect from a tired unit that’s been pinned in their own zone for 30+ seconds. Mental lapses tend to happen when you’ve been on the ice for too long and I think Gleason’s decision making there was definitely a mental miscue. This next example, however, shows a much better side of the Canes penalty kill.

Context: There is less than four minutes left in the third period and the Canes are hanging onto a 4-3 lead. They have killed off most of Jerome Samson’s penalty but the Habs have entered the zone for one final rush with about 20 seconds left. How do the Canes respond?

A big difference with this penalty kill is that the Canes were able to clear the puck a few times and get fresh troops on the ice. The Habs are in the zone for one last chance as the previous goal-scorer David Desharnais creeps in towards the net. He draws the attention of both Bryan Allen and Chad LaRose. Allen goes down to potentially block a shot and/or make Desharnais go around him if he chooses to keep the puck. Desharnais elects to do the latter and it didn’t have the result that Allen was hoping for.

Desharnais easily maneuvers his way around Allen and gets to the side of the net. Unfortunately for him, Ward has the post completely blocked off, so it’s going to take a perfect shot to beat him. Instead of getting a chance on net, Desharnais elects to pass the puck to Chris Campoli, who is currently waiting in the slot, for a potential chance. The Canes have this defended well, though as LaRose is standing in between Desharnais & Campoli with his stick in perfect position.

Desharnais makes his pass attempt and Campoli is ready for the shot but the puck disappears from sight for about a second. Where is it?

No one knew where the puck was for about two seconds and then LaRose, the guy who blocked the pass, sees it and then gains control of the puck before anyone else can get to it.

Once LaRose is able to control the puck, the first thing he does with it is send it all the way to the other end of the rink as the Habs powerplay expires. This is a fantastic individual effort on the penalty kill from LaRose that helped seal the game for Carolina. It might seem basic, but LaRose showed great hockey sense by noticing that Desharnais was going to pass the puck, block the attempt and then clear the puck once he retrieved it. This entire penalty kill was well played by Carolina but this play stood out to me in particular because of how crucial the situation was. LaRose denied what would have been a prime scoring chance for Montrel and that’s really important in a one-goal game. 

Here we see two sides to the Hurricanes penalty kill and unfortunately, we’ve seen more performances like the first example for most of the season. One of the main reasons why the Canes’ PK looks so much better in the second example is because the Canes were able to get multiple line changes beforehand and their players weren’t as tired. The Canes being pinned in their own zone for 30+ seconds on the penalty kill is a problem itself because when you have tired players on special teams, that increases the chance for mental mistakes which leads to shots, chances and goals against. On the flipside, when the Canes are able to clear the puck more often, they are much more successful on the PK and make smarter decisions. They haven’t been able to do that on a lot of nights and it’s one of the reasons why they are ranked 28th in the league in PK success rate. We know that this PK can be better than where they stand right now but for most of the season, they haven’t shown it at all.