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Penguins Go for the Kill

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins
The Penguins improved to 5-1-1 since the Olympic break and have lost in regulation only once in their past 11 contests (6-1-4). While the Penguins’ overall game is really starting to gel, one aspect that has been particularly impressive over the past 17 games is the team’s penalty killing units.


“We’re all on the same page,” forward Matt Cooke said. “It’s been a huge focus of ours. We know that penalty kills win and lose hockey games. The penalty killers are just trying to do our part out there.”

We feel like things are coming together a little bit. We still have work to do, but as far as the PK goes I think we all feel pretty comfortable with what we’re doing. - Craig Adams
“We feel like things are coming together a little bit,” forward Craig Adams said. “We still have work to do, but as far as the PK goes I think we all feel pretty comfortable with what we’re doing."

Over the last 17 contests Pittsburgh has killed 68 of 78 shorthanded opportunities – an 87.2 percent success rate. The team has an 83.5 percent kill rate this season to rank fifth in the Eastern Conference.

“We have an aggressive mindset,” head coach Dan Bylsma said. “There have been games where we’ve given up one or two goals, but our penalty kill over the last 20 games has been a real factor in games, giving us a chance to stay in games. … It’s a clear understanding of being aggressive, forcing teams into difficult situations and taking a lot of pride in that aspect of the game.”

But the team has also gotten timely kills at crucial moments in games. Pittsburgh was able to preserve its 2-1 victory at Tampa Bay thanks to a big third-period kill with their top PK forward, Jordan Staal, in the box. 

The Penguins penalty killers were at their best at Atlantic Division rival New Jersey on March 12. Despite the 3-1 setback, Pittsburgh killed all four Devils’ power-play chances, including the most impressive kill of the season.

With Adams, one of their best killers, assessed a five-minute major penalty, the team was forced play an entire five minutes down a man with the Devils having an opportunity to score as often as they could.

Given that the penalty occurred in the second period – when it is more difficult to change lines with the benches being on the opposite side of the red line – Pittsburgh did a great job of constantly rotating units to keep their players fresh throughout the five-minute kill, especially impressive also since there were no stoppages of play during the entire five minutes. And not only did the Penguins come away unscathed from the five minutes, they even killed an extra 19 seconds because the team – not expecting for there to be no whistles during the kill – didn’t put anyone in box at the start of the penalty so as to have a full compliment of players to kill.

“Whenever you get a five-minute penalty you’re going to be out there three or four times so you try to stay short shifts,” Cooke said. “Every time the puck gets cleared down you want to change to keep fresh legs out there as much as possible because it was the second period and it’s a long change. Any time we get the puck down you try to get two fresh guys out there, and you’re using three or four units.

“You think you’ll get a whistle at some point during the five-minute period. We didn’t have anyone in the box unfortunately and that just made the kill longer. We stuck with it and got through it. Those things can be momentum builders for your team.”

In games like that where you have to kill off a lot of penalties, and a five-minute major, you really gain momentum. It’s not just two or three guys in situations like that. Every guy on our team is out there on the penalty kill with the exception of a few - Dan Bylsma
“In games like that where you have to kill off a lot of penalties, and a five-minute major, you really gain momentum,” Bylsma said. “It’s not just two or three guys in situations like that. Every guy on our team is out there on the penalty kill with the exception of a few.”

And the most important player out there on any penalty kill is the man standing between the pipes. Both goaltenders, Fleury and Brent Johnson, deserve a lot of credit, as well as the forwards and defensemen, for their performances in shutting down opponents’ power plays.

“The guys did a great job,” Adams said. “It didn’t seem to matter who was out there. Flower made some huge saves. (Fleury) and Johnny are our best penalty killers. When you get the saves, it makes everybody else look good.”

“The guys did a great job, especially on the five-minute,” Fleury said. “Teams have a lot of good players out there. (The penalty killers) did a good job for me. They clear the puck a lot and don’t give up many shots or rebounds.”

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