A lot of times you don't appreciate the little things in life. That goes for the game of hockey too.
Taking an extra stride to avoid an icing, going in the corner to retrieve the puck, setting up in front of the net. The list goes on and on. Coaches and players preach it as an intricate part of the game but the matter of getting it done is another thing altogether.
One thing that can often be overlooked is a team's penalty kill. The penalty killers are such a vital cog to a team's success.
Take the Panthers for instance. Two seasons ago, they were in the top ten, finishing ninth with an 82.6% kill rate. Last season, the unit didn't have the success and the final record showed. The unit finished 23rd, killing off just 79.4%.
This season, the Panthers penalty kill unit has gotten off to a smoldering start, killing off every penalty in the first four games. That followed a 33 of 35 (.943%) kill ratio in the pre-season.
"The penalty kill has been great," said head coach Peter Deboer. "We wanted to put some emphasis early on our special teams, both our power play and our penalty killing and we've done that."
While keeping the systems similar to years past, DeBoer has said that the team has had a more aggressive mindset this season. It doesn’t hurt that the team has averaged just four penalty minutes a game as well.
Another reason for the success though is that there have been changes in player personnel. Adding players like forward Marty Reasoner and defenseman Mike Weaver
have led to early success.
"Both those guys have made a living out of it," said DeBoer. "Reasoner for a number of years is a third, fourth line guy and Weaver was probably the most valuable part of St. Louis' penalty kill last year and the best in the league. They take a lot of pride in it.
"They've got a lot of ideas of how they want things done and that's half the battle of when you have guys that want to do that job and are willing to do that grunt work and take pride in it and those guys are two of the best."
Reasoner was acquired in a trade from Chicago in June while Weaver signed a two-year contract in the first week of August.
| Besides being a key player for the Panthers penalty kill, Marty Reasoner has been involved offensively, recording four points (two goals) in four games to date. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, John Ulan) |
"Making sure everyone's on the same page and game plan as far as what we're trying to do," said Reasoner. "I think that's what we've really tried to hit home is it doesn't really matter what you do but it's just a matter of everybody is doing the same thing so that makes it a lot easier as far as reading off of guys, knowing where guys are going to be and what they're going to do."
"I think everybody has got a feeling for each other," said Weaver. "We have a game plan for a game and everybody is executing it. It's great to have a goalie back there that's able to make the key saves."
Having success so early on on the penalty kill might be surprising to some, especially since they are new to the team, but for Reasoner and Weaver, they aren't surprised at the team's early success.
"I don't think it's no surprise," said Weaver. "Everybody works hard. You have to have a hard working team. We've proven that that we're a hard working team. It's just simple little plays."
"Early on we've been with the same guys," added Reasoner. I've played with Dvo (Radek Dvorak), Weav and Garry (Jason Garrison
) a lot so when you get to be familiar with each other and know what guys are going to do, it makes the game a lot easier."
"It's the easy plays," said Weaver of the team's penalty kill success. "Getting that puck right down off a turnover. A lot of teams struggle with that. A lot of teams, you'll turn the puck over, maybe you might get it out down the ice, maybe not. Then all of a sudden that extra opportunity happens for the power play."
For Reasoner and Weaver, they enjoy what they do, even if it does go unnoticed to most people outside of their hockey family.
"You really don't get a lot of ink being on the PK," said Weaver. "Guys take a lot of pride in coming back to the dressing room and everybody congratulating them there rather than being seen in the papers. It's great to come back to the bench and actually have all the guys that you battle for each night coming and give you a pat on the back."PRACTICE TIME
The Panthers went through a 75 minute practice at Saveology.com Iceplex working on battle drills before focusing on the power play and penalty kill the second half. That made it a second day of practice after last playing a game three days ago.
For a team that's shut out their last two opponents while scoring nine goals, the coaching staff and players would much rather be playing and building off of the early momentum instead.
"We're playing well. It would be nice to be going every other day," said DeBoer. "It would be the perfect situation."
"It is difficult. It's almost like we've had three training camps now," said Reasoner. "Once you get on a roll, you kind of want to keep going and you get momentum and you start to feel good about your game."
With five days in-between the Tampa and Dallas games, the Panthers will just have to work on their game, fine-tuning it for a Stars team that comes in 4-1 and has averaged four goals a game.
"Coaches will never complain about practice time," said DeBoer. "As the season goes on you find you get less and less of it...We have got a young team and the practice time is being put to good use right now."
"It's just one of those things that you have to use to our advantage, get a little rest and heal some injuries," said Reasoner. "Hopefully it will help us in December and January."McARDLE TO ROCHESTER
Placed on waivers yesterday, forward Kenndal McArdle cleared today at noon and will now get a lot of playing time in Rochester.