The Los Angeles Kings have been on a little bit of a penalty killing roll over the last month, having killed off 35 of 36 power plays since John Tavares’ empty-net goal solidified an Islanders win at the Barclays Center on January 21.
Since then, the only power play goal allowed was Brendan Perlini’s marker less than five minutes into the resumption of play following the Kings’ league-mandated bye week. Other than the Coyotes, there’s an impressive list of O-fer man advantages belonging to the Rangers, Devils, Hurricanes, Coyotes (in Arizona), Flyers, Capitals, Lightning, Ducks, Panthers (twice) and Avalanche (twice).
The kill in Colorado, while it helped the team win by a narrow margin, wasn’t airtight. A particularly potent-looking power play was held off the scoreboard early in the game both by Peter Budaj’s big save on Gabriel Landeskog’s chance, and the benefit of several shots that sailed wide.
“To be quite honest with you we’ve been a little lucky lately. We’ve gotten away with a little bit,” Associate Coach John Stevens said. “We actually gave up more than we wanted to in Colorado the other night and I think they probably missed more than we executed so it’s something we’re always trying to improve on. Quite honestly I thought before the break we were getting really aggressive on that road trip and limiting zone time. I thought we got away from it a little bit but we’ve got lots of players that take pride in playing good defense and their 5-on-5 game, I think a lot of it translates into the penalty kill.”
Good structure in even strength play often leads to strong penalty killing, a notion with examples in both the Kings’ play and the play of tonight’s opponent, the Boston Bruins. Boston leads the league in both Corsi-for percentage and penalty killing, while Los Angeles ranks second and sixth.
“As we move forward they get a little more important so the attention to detail has to be there,” Dwight King said. “It’s just like a power play, a little bit of momentum and you kind of build off it and you try to use it five-on-five.”
King leads all active and qualifying NHL players during all shorthanded situations with a GA60 rate of 1.96. He has been on the ice for three goals this season in over 91 minutes of shorthanded time. While all players would prefer to play five-on-five, where the possibility to create offense more profoundly exists, there is still the pride in being able to keep the puck out of the net.
“I think it’s got a lot to do with the mindset and being ready to go, willingness to win battles, faceoffs, block shots and then obviously being aware of your opponent, so it’s a big challenge here with Boston,” Stevens said. “[They have a] very good power play with two good units. Prior to the break they scored a lot of goals … so it’s something we’re going to have to be ready for.”
“I mean, one thing we focus on is taking less penalties so we have more energy 5-on-5 and when we do have to kill penalties we have energy to do so. But I think it’s something that whether we did well with it, we’re trying to reinforce what we’re doing well. For instance, in Colorado we’re trying to look at it and correct it in a hurry. You know, we corrected it at the time but when you do things right you try and reinforce it at the time and if things don’t go exactly the way you want, we try and implement that and just make sure that our level of urgency is where it needs to be every time we’re in that situation.”
Correcting issues and improving penalty killing details is done more often on video, because it’s more desirable to adjust that way than through blocking shots and wearing down players in practices.
But whether in video sessions, practices or in-game situations, there is plenty of pride in being a part of a group that has generally been among the better penalty-killing teams in the league this decade. Since the start of the 2010-11 season, the Kings are tied for sixth in the league – with the Bruins – with a summed success rate of 83.7%.
“I think we’ve played a lot of different styles of power plays. I think it kind of helps,” King said. “Obviously late in the season there are times that kind of mimic each other in their layout so I think we’ve seen almost every different style it’s just a matter of reading the personnel that each team has. I think guys are tuning in a little bit on that.”