July 26, 2011
I hated killing penalties.
Part of the problem might have been that I was horrible at it, but I doubt it. I'm pretty sure it's just a stupid thing to like.
The problem is, any team that hopes to have real success needs to be able to kill penalties, which means that somebody has to do it. And anywhere there's a way to get a foot in the door with a hockey team (or become more important to the team they're on), guys will come kicking.
That fact has created this special group of apparently-oxygen-deprived players who consider themselves "penalty killing specialists." On the scale from brain surgeon to people-who-choose-to-become-goalies, they're far closer to the crease.
The following is my three-point case for why smart players avoid killing penalties if they can (my case for why smart players become wingers can be saved for another day).
It hampers your offensive output
As a young buck, I used to think the more ice-time I received, the more time I had to score goals.
That theory looks good on paper, doesn't quite pan out in practice.
In-zone penalty killing is done in the type of short, quick bursts (if you're doing it right) that makes your quads feel like you've just done lightning lines at the end of practice. Stops and starts, up and back, stick in lanes. Backdoor! Up top! You can't even loop around. I'm tired writing about it.
So when you go out for your 5-on-5 shift with your linemates, you don't have that little something extra to wiggle past a guy out of the corner and get to the net, beat a guy to the puck, or break free from a hold.
You can have all the Lance Armstrong-in-his-prime cardio you want, it doesn't matter. Nobody can say they feel as fresh after stops and starts as they do after resting on the bench with water. Since a lot of offense comes down to beating a guy to the puck by an inch and poking it past him, I'm out.
You're vulnerable to get hurt
Shot-blocking, right. That.
A huge percentage of your job as a penalty killer is to block shots — as a forward, it's one of the few things you actually have to think about in your own zone.
Every time the puck gets moved to the point, you've got to be in that lane, so when some monster smashes frozen rubber towards the goal, it hits your unimportant body. Sure, he'll likely hit you somewhere well-padded the first time. Oh nice, and again that time. Hey, shin pads again. Then…OH MY GOD MY WRIST.
My college roommate twice broke his foot killing penalties, because in his mind, opening up his ankle to a slapshot (makes it three times as wide!) was a better option than letting our opponent get a shot on net.
I cannot be friends with anyone who thinks that makes sense. Or at least I shouldn't be.
No guts, no glory? Nonono. No brains, no glory
There are two things you can do in hockey that come with a helping of glorious glory — you can score a goal, or make a huge save. I guess you can rock someone too, but as you've probably gleaned from this article, that wasn't exactly my forte either.
Penalty killing is thankless work if you're not one of the "specialists."
Most teams will have at least three pairings of forwards they use to kill penalties, and no team would ever employ six PK specialists. That means four or five of those guys that are forced to do it are doing it because, well, somebody has to, and apparently coach wants to rest the other guys.
Breaking up a cross-box pass with a good stick will get you plenty of pats on the back from coach when you come to the bench, but your real reward? More PK time, buddy, enjoy.
It's the old rule of thumb — do something poorly enough the first time, and you won't be asked to do it again. We should all have the sense to teach that to our kids (note: I'm not yet a parent for a reason).
All of this is a bit tongue in cheek, of course. Penalty killing isn't the worst thing you could be asked to do in hockey.
Mostly because if you give up enough goals on it, you can be asked to do the thing that actually is - we're losing by how much? I have to fight who now?