What’s different about the Hurricanes penalty kill?

The Hurricanes penalty kill reached a new low on February 11, 2013 when the New York Islanders powerplay lit them up for four goals in a game but since then, things have been looking up. The Canes PK has allowed only six goals in the 14 games since then and have climbed their way out of the bottom-10 in the NHL. How effective they have been on the PK in the last 13 games has actually become quite a story, as they've allowed only four goals on 44 powerplay opportunities. It's very important that the Hurricanes continue to be successful on the penalty kll because poor special teams play cost them a few games early on in the season, especially with their powerplay slumping right now.

The turnaround of the Hurricanes penalty kill has been very impressive, there's no doubt about that but what are the odds that the team's recent success on the PK is only smoke & mirrors? They are still at the bottom of the NHL in terms of shots allowed while playing 4-on-5 and have relied on their goaltenders to bail them out of more than a few bad situations. Is it possible that the Canes PK is no different than that of the Toronto Maple Leafs which has also seen a streak of good luck in recent games? The overall underlying numbers suggest so, but let's take a look and see what exactly has changed with the Hurricanes PK in the last 13 games.

  PK GA PK PK% PK/Gm PK SA PK SV% SA/PK
First 12 Games 15 53 71.7% 4.4 89 0.831 1.68
Last 13 Games 4 44 90.9% 3.38 53 0.925 1.20

PK GA = Penalty kill goals allowed, Pen/Game = Number of penalty kills per game, PK SA = Shots against on penalty ill, PK SV% = Penalty kill save percentage, SA/PK = Shots against per penalty kill

The Hurricanes penalty kill has gotten rather lucky in these last 13 games with the team having a shorthanded save percentage of .925. They are allowing slightly fewer shots but not enough to go from allowing over .20 goals per kill to less than .10 in the span of only 13 games. A decline that sharp is usually the sign of either good or bad luck and that's probably the case with the Hurricanes this season. Their penalty kill likely wasn't as bad as it was for the first 12 games, but it also isn't nearly as good as what we've seen the last 12 games.
 

That being said, the Hurricanes are doing some good things on the penalty kill. After all, they are yielding fewer shots than they were earlier in the season and I think some of that has to do with Eric Staal and Alexander Semin becoming regular additions on the PK. Neither are known for their defensive game (although Semin is vastly underrated), but the Hurricanes are allowing fewer shorthanded shots on goal when these two are on the ice. A lot of it has to do with these two playing an aggressive style on the PK, leading to a few shorthanded breakaways and scoring chances for the Hurricanes. Both Staal and Semin are usually the best players on the ice for the Hurricanes, which makes them a threat no matter what the playing situation is and why they have been good additions to the penalty kill.

Above all, the most important thing to consider with the Hurricanes improvements on the PK is that they have been taking less penalties in general. They've been shorthanded fewer times and alleviating some pressure off their penalty killers to bail the team out of a tough spot. Out of all the things that have gone right for the Hurricanes lately, the fact that they are taking fewer penalties might be the most critical. One less penalty per game may not seem like much, but it can make a difference in the big picture with how much a powerplay goal can change the complexion of a game.

So while the Hurricanes penalty kill has gotten pretty fortunate over the last month or so, they are doing some good things to help improve their shorthanded play and it all starts with the team taking fewer penalties.

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