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Team First Approach Keeps PK Unit In Top Form

by Bryan Mullen / Nashville Predators
The Nashville Predators have overhauled their roster over the last year; eight of the 18 skaters to see the ice during Monday night's game at Edmonton were not on the Preds NHL roster 12 months ago. The infusion of young skilled players has created a buzz about the team. It has also created a little bit of a learning curve as the coaches find the combinations that click best.

However, one thing has remained the same. The Preds penalty kill remains one of the elite units in the league. When  penalty kill regulars Marcel Goc, Steve Sullivan and Joel Ward did not return this season, some surmised that the PK would struggle. Last regular season, the Predators were fifth in the league (84.9%); through the first five games this season, Nashville has killed off 86.4% of its PK opportunities. Young forwards like Nick Spaling and Matt Halischuk have taken more of a leadership role on the penalty kill, while guys like Blake Geoffrion and Cal O'Reilly -- both normally associated for the offensive prowess -- have bought in to the nuances of shorthanded play.

“It’s something that I try to continue to improve on,” Spaling said. “I think it’s an important part of our game right now, and the kill is going well. But it hasn’t been tested a lot and there’s a long way to go. We have some things that we’re going over in practices.”

Geoffrion has also spent plenty of time of the PK, going to back to last season when he was with Milwaukee.

“In college, he was a pretty good faceoff guy,” Predators coach Barry Trotz said of Geoffrion. “He was a penalty killer, shot-blocking player. It is sort of the role Jerred Smithson is in, a top faceoff guy and penalty killer. His game evolved into the offensive part in college. He has pretty good instincts for the game and a pretty good stick. He’s not afraid to block a shot.”

“Obviously the No. 1 thing on your penalty kill is goaltending,” Predators Captain Shea Weber said. “And Pekka (Rinne) has been great. He is one of the best, if not the best in the league. Then you have your character guys who kill penalties. They work as hard as anyone. I think we’re able to go two or three units and just roll them 30 seconds at a time to stay fresh.”

Rinne has been stellar, and not just when opponents have been on the power play. Entering Tuesday night, he has made an NHL-high 150 saves and no goaltender has logged more minutes (303:34). With that, Rinne has still managed to be ranked No. 17 in save percentage (.926).

With Francis Bouillon, Martin Erat and Mike Fisher all preparing to re-join the lineup, the penalty kill stands to get three additional weapons to work into the mix.

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