As has been discussed recently, the Kings’ penalty kill has been performing well below the high standard that had developed into the team’s identity. Only the Kings and Vancouver Canucks have finished amongst the top 10 teams in penalty killing percentage in each of the last three seasons.
“Mostly it’s teams coming in here worrying about how we penalty kill instead of us worrying about how they play their power play,” Willie Mitchell said.
After killing off 14 consecutive power plays, Los Angeles has allowed nine goals over the last 26 shorthanded situations. Mitchell, along with Matt Greene, was referenced by Darryl Sutter as “not doing anything” on the penalty kill following Saturday’s 4-3 loss to the Nashville Predators, a game in which Los Angeles allowed two goals in three shorthanded situations.
Mitchell was among the league’s top penalty killers during the year the Kings won the Stanley Cup, and on Wednesday he spoke with LA Kings Insider to offer insight into ways the team is looking to bolster its generally strong penalty killing habits.
Willie Mitchell, on whether the team’s penalty killing systems changed during the season he spent away from the team:
We’ve changed a little bit, but just being honest…I think we were focusing a lot on the other teams and a lot with what they were doing. Kind of the last couple days, what we’ve talked about is just resetting the dial and focusing on what makes us a good penalty kill, and let them chase the game, so to speak, instead of us chasing it. That’s kind of where our focus has been – what’s made our penalty kill good, what are those things, and playing to those strengths and letting teams adjust around that. That’s what we’ve kind of reviewed and done, and I like it. I like it when it’s more focused on what we do, and less a focus on what they do. You know, being consciously aware , obviously, of what they do. So that’s kind of been our thing. You have ebbs and flows, right?…Our penalty kill was cruising. I forget – we were on a run where it was like…[Reporter: 14 in a row.]…yeah, I thought it was around 15, and then we had that game in Calgary where three went in. There were a couple bounces, and then sometimes what happens, you start to press. I’m not saying you can ‘care too much,’ because our group, that’s what’s always made our penalty kill really good, is I think we’ve got people that take a lot of pride in it, a lot of passion in that. It starts with our penalty kill coach, John Stevens. I know he does. I know me and Greenie are guys they look to on that big time. We take a lot of pride in it, too. I think sometimes you can ‘not care too much,’ but sometimes you can press a little too much, and when you press, you start chasing it, and sometimes you’ve just got to settle in and put the work in and have the battle and compete, but also just trust the instincts instead of doing too much chasing. That’s kind of where we’ve reset the dial a bit.
Mitchell, on Darryl Sutter saying that the team needed an “0-for” penalty killing performance:
He’s the coach. We all have our different ways of doing it. Myself, I think if we worry about our fundamentals and stuff like that, the 0-for happens. Sometimes you can’t look at the top of the hill, so to speak, because then you get too far ahead of yourself and you forget what it takes to get to the top of the hill. I’m saying that with the PK too, that you can’t sit there and be like, ‘OK, we need an 0-for.’ You’ve got to sit there and say ‘OK, this is what we need to do.’ We need to push the puck to this side of the ice in the neutral zone. Don’t get carried in with speed, and make them dump in the puck, and then we set up the battle and make our small little plays that our group’s capable of doing to get the puck down the ice. When we’re doing all those things, I think all that will add up to the results…It’s kind of like saying ‘shutout,’ right? As a PKer, you don’t want to say ‘0-for.’