Remember that penalty-kill percentage just a few weeks ago? Yea, I am trying to forget it too.
Just under a month ago, the penalty-kill was uglier than Mike Ricci. Head Coach Ken Hitchcock saw his team surrender two power-play goals against the Toronto Maple Leafs, one in which had NHL leading-scorer Phil Kessel wide open in front of the net. After that atrocity, the Blues ranked 30th in the league with a 73% kill-rate (only killing off 38 of 52 opportunities).
The Blues followed that up by shutting out the Lightning two nights later and stopping all five Lightning opportunities. The penalty-kill squad went on a roll from there.
Since the Maple Leafs game (eight games-played), the team has killed off 30 out of 32 power-plays (94%). If the Blues had this great of a penalty kill all season, they would currently be in the top-three among NHL penalty-kill percentage.
Why has the penalty-kill been such a success as of late?
The holes in the middle are being plugged up much quicker. If the Blues leave a passing lane open in the middle of the rink, the speedy forwards are quickly blocking the lane. This includes T.J. Oshie, Vladimir Sobotka, Alex Steen and, of course, David Backes.
The defense is not allowing opposing forwards to get in good scoring areas. Two defensemen have been very steady in this aspect. The big bodies of Alex Pietrangelo and Roman Polak are keeping players on the perimeter and out of the slot.
Goaltending has been brilliant. Not really anything else to add here, except both goaltenders have been making the saves that they need to. Both Halak and Elliott are also covering rebounds and kicking initial shots to the corners.
Fewer opportunities have been given to opposing teams. The Blues have been a lot more disciplined since playing the Maple Leafs. In the first 15 games, the Blues were allowing an average of 5.6 power-plays-against per game. In the past 9 games, the penalty-kill has had to kill off an average of just 3.6 power-plays per game. This may be the most important component of the Blues’ recent success with the kill.
If the Blues keep this pace up, they will be among one of the league-leaders in penalty-kill percentage by the All-Star Break.
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