The Carolina Hurricanes are struggling this season, so far. However, one part of their game is highly effective: their penalty kill. 16 games into the season, they PK has a success rate of 91%, 5% higher than the team in 5th place. Carolina has taken 110 minutes worth of penalties this season, making them the 2nd least penalized team in the NHL (Rangers with 104). To date, the Hurricanes have surrendered only 4 power play goals, 2 less than the second place Senators and Sharks. That’s an average of 27.5 minutes per shorthanded goal and 0.25GA/game. Spread over an 82 game season, 20.5 shorthanded goals. Last season, Carolina gave up the fewest shorthanded goals, at 32, or one every 2.5 games. It is not secret their penalty kill is successful, but there are a few reasons why.
Carolina is the least penalized team in the NHL, only taking 204 penalties last season. This allows their penalty killing units to remain fresh, not overworked on a nightly basis. By contrast, Arizona was shorthanded 304 times last year (most in NHL), and gave up a league worst 69 power play goals against. Carolina’s average of 2.48 penalties/game is a total of 5 minutes shorthanded each night. Considering that penalty killers are generally role players up front and top D on the back end, keep those players as rested as possible is vital to team success. Justin Faulk played an average of 24:02 last year, with 3 other Hurricanes D-men playing more than 20 minutes. The more stressful the minutes, the longer the shifts, the more tired the player gets. A tired player makes mental mistakes and those often end up in a quality scoring chance against or goal against. The less the players have to kill penalties, the fresher they will be.
When the Hurricanes are shorthanded, Bill Peters employs a high pressure system. The pictures below are from the November 20th game against the Jets. Slavin (74), forces the pass to Ehlers behind the net. He is pressured hard by Pesce (22), Lindholm (16) recognizes and presses to the only available passing option on the half-wall.
Recognizing the 50/50 puck battle, McGinn (23) curls to provide a passing lane if the puck is recovered or over off the passing lane to the point if the battle is lost. Pesce wins the puck battle, with Laine sealed by Lindholm, the lane is open for McGinn. The puck is moved to McGinn, who makes a controlled exit. His controlled exit and dump-in allows the Hurricanes PK unit change.
When the Jets regroup and carry the puck with speed through the neutral zone, the Hurricanes pressure the puck and stand-up at the blue line. Multiple times this season, this caused a turnover, forcing the power play to reset. The stand-up force works because of the back pressure, it is a two-fold strategy.
Once the Jets have control in the zone, Carolina immediately pressures. It forces the jets into quick, ill-advised passes and shots. Take a look at the frame below; Byfuglien has just taken a rushed shot. Laine is just out of the frame on the other point.Due to the forced passes and shot, the Jets don’t have anyone there to recover the puck. Staal (11) recognizes Laine is the only option and moves to take him. The net front Jets player moves to the corner, and Slavin (74) takes that passing lane away instead of darting to the puck.
Staal’s high pressure forces Laine to throw the puck down the wall. By approaching him with speed and a stick that blocks his passing lane to Byfuglien, Staal gives Laine little time to make a decision. Knowing this, Slavin cheats towards the boards, and Rask (49) cheats to the top. This will give Slavin a clear pass and an easy clear.
Result: Laine’s dump pass is intercepted by Slavin and cleared down the ice. At this point, 1 minute has been killed by Carolina with the only shot coming from the blue line, a rushed one at that.
This frame shows the same PK, after another zone entry. The pressure has forced the Jets to rim the puck around. Trouba (8) pinches down, but the pressure from the high forward (25) forces him to dump the puck. The only low forward is covered by Faulk (27), allowing the player on the far side of the net, a clear lane to the puck. Faulk takes the Jets player into the boards, and puck is free. The Hurricanes pressure forces the Jets to turn the puck over, leading to another clear.
Carolina’s PK works off of a high pressure system that requires anticipation and ability to read the play. The pressure comes fast, as the PK unit is often in 1 quadrant of the zone (where the puck is). Not only that, the support system within the zone and the paths taken by the unit, allow for mistakes to be covered. A loose puck in either corner will see 2 players within 8 feet of the puck, the other 2 within the quadrant, should puck come free.
The only way to beat the Hurricanes PK is by quick passing. However, with their ability to read the play, and pressure the puck properly, passes are often miscued, leading to turnovers. If a shot is created, the shot is likely rushed, meaning it isn’t as hard or accurate as it needs to be to beat an NHL goaltender. While NHL players are skilled, active sticks, well-timed pressure and unit support create havoc for them. This type of aggressive penalty kill employed by Peters has been successful for multiple seasons, and it is difficult to crack.
The Hurricanes may not have the best goaltender or skilled forwards in the NHL, but it is a team sport. One thing the Hurricanes do have, is a very effective penalty kill. Couple that with the least penalized team in the NHL, that’s a recipe for long-term success.