Building penalty killing consistency
The Los Angeles Kings have engineered their longest penalty killing streak of the season and are a perfect 16-for-16 on the kill since San Jose’s late third period goal in a 5-2 Los Angeles win on March 16. The team’s ability to kill off both ends of a double-minor while trailing 1-0 at Chicago on Monday enabled them to weather the first period storm and enter the second period trailing the league’s best team in the standings by only a goal. The Kings then tied the game and took the lead in the first eight minutes of the second period before emerging victorious in a 5-4 win that saw the Kings hold two leads and the Blackhawks hold three.
Since the throes of the team’s shorthanded depression between 2003 and 2008 – when the team finished between 28th and 30th in the penalty killing rankings for four consecutive seasons – Los Angeles has done an about-face in the penalty killing department, having been a top-10 team on the kill for three of the last four years.
“I think its part of our identity,” Dustin Brown said after Thursday’s morning skate.
It certainly was during last year’s postseason run. L.A. crafted streaks of 42 and 33 consecutive penalty kills in a regular season that was followed by a playoff run in which they killed off 70-of-76 penalties for a 92.1% success rate. The Kings were outscored 6-to-5 while shorthanded in the playoffs en route to capturing their first Stanley Cup.
Not surprisingly, the penalty killing success was derivative of the team’s strong 200-foot play at even strength.
“It really correlates to our five-on-five game when we’re on our game,” Brown said. “Generally when we have a good PK, it transfers into how we play five-on-five. We’ve kind of gotten away from it up and down all year. We’re scoring more goals, but we’re giving up more goals. Come playoff time, we saw the way we needed to play for success was just a hard-nosed game.”
This year, the success hasn’t been quite as consistent.
The Kings have risen to 82.4% on the kill by virtue of their recent streak, and entering Thursday night’s action they ranked a respectable 12th in the league on the penalty kill. Jarret Stoll’s second period go-ahead goal on Monday was the team’s second shorthanded tally of the season.
A rift does exist in the team’s penalty killing steadiness, one that was confronted in Monday’s strong effort but needs to become more consistent, according to Darryl Sutter.
“Be better on the road,” Sutter said. “[We’re] top-10 in the league at home and bottom-10 on the road. That’s one thing that doesn’t ever change is matchups, right? You know what the other team’s power play is. You know who the other team’s penalty killers are.”
Los Angeles’ penalty kill ranks eighth in the league at home in and 22nd on the road. Only Colorado, ranked third at home and 30th on the road, has a wider home-road discrepancy.
The key towards a consistent kill, according to Brown on Thursday, is “just the details”.
“The stops and starts are a big thing for us, and when we’re doing it right, our system works really well,” he said. “It’s when we get the loops in our game – a little bit of lazy play – seams open up and opportunities present themselves for the other team. Penalty kill is about hard work, but just the details – like I said, stop and starts are huge for us, and our angles up ice.”
The ability to recapture the success found last season when the team’s shorthanded play ranked fourth in the league for the second consecutive season and routinely crafted streaks of double-digit kills is paramount, according to Brown.
“It’s getting here towards the home stretch, and PK’s going to be a big part of our game going forward, and it’s a matter of hammering it down.”