In 2012, the Chicago Blackhawks’ penalty kill failed them in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
They gave up 4 goals on 19 chances in a loss to the Phoenix Coyotes, who entered the postseason with the 29th best power play in the NHL. The Hawks had the 27th best PK in the regular season; those struggles continues in the playoffs.
So they remedied that in the offseason, bringing in Los Angeles Kings assistant coach and penalty kill architect Jamie Kompon. After the lockout ended, they converted offensive forwards Marcus Kruger and Michael Frolik in special teams defenders.
The results were stunning: The PK provided the backbone for the Blackhawks’ 24-game streak with at least one point earned, and the team gave up the fewest power-play goals in the regular season (18) while finishing with the third-best penalty kill (87.2 percent).
In the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs … well, it’s been perfect: 20 times shorthanded, 20 kills, including a perfect 17-for-17 in Round 1 against the Minnesota Wild (17.9 percent in the regular season.
Niklas Hjalmarsson (3:37 TOI SH per game) and Duncan Keith (3:27) are the primary penalty killing defensemen, with Frolik and Kruger up front. Brent Seabrook and Johnny Oduya typically make up the second unit D-pairing, with Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa as the star-studded killers.
Potentially bolstering the unit even more: The return of defensive center Dave Bolland from injury, as he saw time on the PK in the regular season.
Where this all tracks back to, however, is Corey Crawford. He was sixth in the League (.896) in shorthanded save percentage for goalies that have at least 100 shots against.
As is the Blackhawks captain’s way, Jonathan Toews is downplaying the domination. Via MLive:
"We don't become aware of it until you say what you just said," claimed captain Jonathan Toews. "We're not thinking about streaks. When things are going well you keep working hard at it, you don't get satisfied. Keep looking for ways to improve.
That's what we've done with our penalty kill. “We definitely want to stay out of the box against this team because that's how they can gain momentum, by being on the power play. They can create a lot of chances no matter what we do but we know it's an important part of our game against Detroit.”
Chicago was 3-for-3 against the Wings in Game 1, after the Wings scored six power-play goals in 25 chances against the Ducks in Round 1.
Continuing this streak will prove difficult with the amount of firepower on Detroit’s special teams unit, but there’s no denying the PK is one of the reasons the Blackhawks could be Cup bound.