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Blue Jackets "killing it" in December

by Brian McCormack / Columbus Blue Jackets

When a team wins seven in a row, a lot of things are probably going right. The Blue Jackets have certainly fixed some of the problems in their game, and one of the improvements that has been earning them wins is a penalty kill that is far and away stronger than it was during their rough November.

The Blue Jackets have killed off 24 of their 28 penalties (85.7 percent) during their last eight games, in which they have not lost in regulation, pushing them up from the depths of the league rankings to 24th in the NHL.

“I think it’s just repetitions. It was a new kill for us and at the start of the year, you’re used to old habits,” said forward Nick Foligno before Thursday's game against the Capitals. “When that’s the case, you’re leaving holes open. I think now we’re getting the repetitions and the understanding of where we need to be and we’re not over-thinking it too much. It’s something you need to be good because it helps you win games and it’s helped us win games.”

It certainly went a long way towards helping the Blue Jackets win their game against the Capitals last Thursday in Washington. The Blue Jackets defeated the Capitals in overtime, at that time the second-ranked power play in the league, and they made it to overtime largely thanks to a terrific penalty kill.

The Capitals entered last night's game with the league’s top-ranked power play, and head coach Todd Richards didn't intend to give them that many opportunities again.

“They’re the No. 1 power play in the league and when you look at the scoring chances that we’ve given up in the last two games, the way we’ve counted it is we’ve given up 21 scoring chances on our penalty kill,” said Richards. “So we have to stay out of the box.”

The Blue Jackets gave up 18 shots on the Capitals’ six power plays last week. On Thursday, they were much more disciplined, killing off all three Washingotn power plays and only giving up eight shots in the process. The solid penalty killing allowed the Blue Jackets to climb back into the game.

Part of the penalty killing success can be attributed to the play of Sergei Bobrovsky, who is making a case for NHL Player of the Month with a 7-0-1 record. He has a .929 save percentage in penalty killing situations for the Blue Jackets in December. Credit to the boost can also be attributed to stronger defense and the return of Brandon Dubinsky.

“(Dubinsky) is a competitor and he’s a big addition back on the PK," Foligno said. "And the defense, I think they’ve been so good and under-rated on our PK in front of the net and boxing out teams and blocking shots."

Beyond personnel, the Blue Jackets’ penalty kill has been a microcosm of their commitment to defense during this streak, which perhaps took a step backwards after a sluggish first period against the Capitals on Thursday night. The Jackets have played in five consecutive overtime contests, which by its very definition means they’ve been playing in close games in the third period.

“It says a lot about our compete level against some really good teams that we played,” said Foligno. “We’ve stuck with it and found ways to battle back in games, or the other team might fight back and we stick with it and push again.”

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