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GLENS FALLS, N.Y. – Pride. Sacrifice. Hard work. It almost sounds like that commercial for the Marines, doesn’t it?
While hockey players aren’t putting their lives on the line for their country, there is a hint of similarity though when you take those concepts and put them into a shorthanded situation.
And while the Phantoms have been inconsistent through their first 18 games, compiling the same amount of wins as losses, there has been one constant that has anchored the squad – it’s penalty kill.
The Phantoms have been shorthanded 90 times so far this season, but have allowed just 13 power play goals. That’s a killing percentage of 85.6 percent, good enough for eighth best in the league.
They were even better before allowing two power play goals in a 10-second span Wednesday. But even then, one of the goals came while two-men short.
Their success in this area has come from a collection of players who like to play in the mold of their coaches – head coach Terry Murray, who is a defensive guru, and assistant coach Kjell Samuelsson, who handles the penalty kill for the Phantoms.
“There’s a whole lot of things that go into penalty killing,” Murray said. “You need good people. You need character. You need guys who want to work hard and are willing to sacrifice their bodies by blocking shots and who play heavy and hard at the right time.
“The hockey awareness that our group has is very good.”
That group is small, but it’s a well-respected group by Murray, Samuelsson and the rest of the team.
The four forwards usually called on to kill those penalties include a first pairing of captain Ben Holmstrom and defensive forward Rob Bordson followed by a dangerous second group consisting of Sean Couturier and Brayden Schenn.
Murray explained that even though a guy like Couturier is considered a top penalty killer when playing in the NHL, that he is on the second grouping because he wants to roll with those guys immediately after a kill is complete to try and build off the momentum of the kill with his best offensive players on the ice.
It’s been a sound strategy so far.
Defensively, all six rearguards have a hand in the kill, but usually guys like Erik Gustafsson and Marc-Andre Bourdon are getting the big minutes, with big Oliver Lauridsen logging time as well.
“We work pretty well together out on the ice, but to be honest, it’s more in the detail,” Holmstrom said. “We do a lot of video work on the penalty kill. You have to take a lot of pride in the job too. That’s how you get to be successful.”
Bordson, who has become a real eye-opener for the Phantoms with his defensive tenacity both at even strength and on the penalty kill, said it’s something he has always loved to do and that it was something he learned to embrace through his coaches from childhood age all the way through the current season in the AHL.
“What I was always taught was to outwork the other team’s power play,” he said. “Usually the other team’s power play is made up of the most skilled guys so if you go out there with the right attitude and the proper work ethic and take away passing lanes and make good clears – you can frustrate skill guys because you force them to work harder.
“There are a lot of little things too. Quick shifts, blocking shots, knowing tendencies. You have to pay attention to detail on video. I love it. I love shutting the other team’s top line down for two minutes and then skate back to the bench knowing you’ve done a good job.”
Which the Phantoms have done this season.
In games when the Phantoms have won the special teams battle (outscored their opponents on special teams) the Phantoms are undefeated this season (4-0). They’ve won five more times when they’ve limited the opponent to one power play goal or fewer and ended up even in the overall special teams battle.
Conversely, when they have lost that battle, they are winless (0-4).
Considering the power play has only clicked 14.6 percent of the time and ranks in the bottom third of the league, even more pressure is put on the penalty kill to win those close battles.
“We’ve had some games where we’ve gone 7-for-7 on the penalty kill and then we win by a goal… that’s huge,” Bordson said. “Special teams is a big part of the sport nowadays. You almost have score at least one on the power play and shut the other team down entirely to win games because even-strength goals are so hard to come by. Our penalty killers have done a good job with that so far.”
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