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Man Down: Analyzing the Carolina Hurricanes’ 2019-20 Penalty Kill

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The Carolina Hurricanes were one of the best teams against the man-advantage last season, but what made them so successful? A look into the units and the variances among them that helped to drive their success.

Carolina Hurricanes v Arizona Coyotes Photo by Norm Hall/NHLI via Getty Images

For the Carolina Hurricanes, special teams have become one of the organization’s specialties. Not only did the Canes have a top-10 power play last season, but they also had a top-five penalty kill. As one of the league’s top penalty killing teams, Carolina’s attention to detail helped to lead the team to its second straight playoff appearance in nearly two decades.

Since we have already gone in depth on the power play, it’s time to take a deep dive into the team’s penalty kills from the last season.

Penalty Kill by the Numbers

The Carolina Hurricanes had one of the most successful penalty kills in the league last season, ranked fourth overall, with an 84% success rate — the best differential between league average in team history (+4%). The team wasn’t just a locked down defense either as its 10 shorthanded goals, tied for second most in the league, showed what a threat the team still was even when a man down.

HockeyViz.com

What is even more impressive about the penalty kill’s success rate is that the Hurricanes were shorthanded the most times in the league (243 times) for the longest amount of time per game (6:05), yet still operated at an incredibly efficient rate.

Further, neither Petr Mrazek nor James Reimer were particularly strong against the man advantage. Of the 57 goaltenders who played at least 20 games last year, Reimer ranked 14th in power play save percentage at 0.886 and Mrazek ranked 31st at 0.867 — league average for those 57 goaltenders was 0.869.

Circle - Wrist Shot; Triangle - Snap Shot; Plus - Slapshot; Star - Tip; Arrow Down - Back Hand; Arrow Left - Deflection | Black - Mrazek; Red - Reimer; Grey - Nedeljkovic
Ryan Henkel

While neither netminder was hurting the team when on the kill, the effort seems more focused on the abilities of the skaters in front of the goalies.

Ryan Henkel

The Hurricanes operate most efficiently when they take three or fewer penalties per game. For a game in which the team took three penalties, the Canes managed to kill off without a goal conceded over twice as much as they allowed.

Frequency of Penalties Taken per Game: 0- 0; 1- 2; 2- 13; 3- 20; 4- 17; 5- 10; 6- 5; 7- 1
Ryan Henkel

The curve then trends downwards with the less disciplined they were with the team going perfect less than half of the time past four penalties taken.

The team could really benefit from staying out of the box that often, but that’s a discussion for another time.

General Things

The Hurricanes generally employ a 1-2-1 formation on the penalty kill where F1 (the high forward) chases the primary opposing puck carrier, F2 (the lower forward) and D1 (the higher defender) either block out the passing lanes to the sides or collapse onto the entering puck carrier and D2 (the lower defender) backs into the zone to act as a secondary line should the puck carrier make it past the rest of the unit.

The only variance to that is a slight modification where the blueline is stacked with F2, D1 and D2 to meet the puck carrier. Typically this method works well to stifle any carrier heavy power-play units as all four killers tend to collapse in and strip the carrier.

The Hurricanes are also a generally heavily aggressive team whether it is the forecheck or the penalty kill. As such, most of the units exhibit a varying degree of aggressiveness similar to the overall style of the team’s play.

The Units

When it comes to penalty kills, the right combination of players is vital. A team needs players that can synergize off of one another if you want to operate at an effective level.

What is so interesting then, is that in watching all 243 penalty kills from the regular season one can see just how much each unit differed from one another yet synergized so well as a unit. While all were effective, each had a unique style that set each apart.

From overloads to stealthy strips, the opposing power play units having to face such a variety on the penalty kill may have been just one of the many reasons on why it found success.

Forwards

Forwards (Regular Season)

Player Goals Against Total PK Ice Time PK Efficiency Rate
Player Goals Against Total PK Ice Time PK Efficiency Rate
Teuvo Teravainen 5 120:58 24:11
Sebastian Aho 6 122:01 20:20
Jordan Martinook 4 58:24 14:36
Lucas Wallmark 6 62:39 10:27
Brock McGinn 18 163:54 9:06
Warren Foegele 9 73:16 8:08
Jordan Staal 20 158:52 7:57
Erik Haula 4 26:40 6:40
Brian Gibbons 2 10:16 5:08
PK efficiency rate is total PK time divided by goals allowed. Ryan Henkel

Jordan Staal and Brock McGinn

HockeyViz.com
HockeyViz.com

The Hurricanes’ go-to primary forward unit, Staal and McGinn exhibited really strong defensive abilities paired together on the kill. The pair is also the go-to unit to start the penalty kill — sent out first in over 66% of kills — which typically means they are faced against the opponents’ best and freshest.

The pair utilizes an aggressive style of play on the kill that sees them double team or overload opposing puck carriers. They don’t rely on their own stick work but more so overwhelming opponents to rush their passes, dump the puck deep or simply turn it over.

Staal is the usual F1 on the 1-2-1 on entries, but once the other team has established the zone, it alternates between the two based on the side of the ice the puck is on.

Staal is also the primary faceoff taker for the Canes, taking over 56% of the team’s total penalty-kill draws. Staal operated at just above a 50% success rate in the faceoff dot which is an extremely efficient rate for someone with as many draws as him.

For instance, only one team in the entire NHL this season had over a 50% total success rate for penalty-kill draws and that was the Philadelphia Flyers at only 51.5%.

While they aren’t as much of a skilled pair or offensive threat, they still accounted for 21 total shots and two shorthanded tallies on the kill, mostly generated from forcing opponent mistakes and winning board battles.

McGinn can also play as F1 being the most versatile penalty killing forward. His speed and tenacity helps him lead rushes out of the defensive zone and helps to give the defenders outlets whether along the boards or blueline.

Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen

HockeyViz.com
HockeyViz.com

One of Brind’Amour’s greatest accomplishments in his so far short tenure as head coach can be seen in the development of Aho and Teravainen into elite penalty killers. While already the team’s biggest offensive threats, the Finnish duo has managed to maintain that same threat level and success even when facing off against a man-advantage.

Aho and Teravainen utilize their creative chemistry, high hockey IQ and stick work to turn the odds against opponents which is shown in their 21 takeaways. Their five combined shorthanded goals accounted for half of the team’s total and was only a small sample of the offense they were generating when a man down.

For instance, the pair also had 29 shots and 18 high danger chances all while only conceding four goals together.

The pair typically both play higher up in the defensive zone than other units with Aho especially playing more of a shadowing role as F1. Instead of chasing down carriers, a lot of the time Aho will play in their blindside in a passing lane to steal passes off. Teravainen alternates between a higher spot and a general F2 position deeper in the zone, but his transitions are seamless.

What can’t be understated is the two’s chemistry though. Take this clip for example.

Aho runs into the Detroit player, preventing him from entering the zone effectively, but the pass encumbers another player and Teravainen is there to clear it. Except Teravainen is already aware that Aho plays higher up in the zone and hits him with a no-look pass up.

Also notice how once Aho sees the pass go off of the Detroit player’s stick, he starts kicking to gear up for the breakaway. The pair just works incredibly well and helps to harness that extra offensive threat.

Their lack of starts though sees the pair as more of a counter tool than a defensive one. Typically coming out on first change, Aho and Tervainen either get a more tired PP1 or get to take on the generally less talented PP2, making it even easier for them to go to work.

While there is no good way to quantify the quality of opponents on the ice versus efficiency of penalty kill ice time, it is still impressive what the team’s best players are capable of.

Jordan Martinook and Warren Foegele

HockeyViz.com
HockeyViz.com

Grit, drive and slam. That may just be the best way to describe this pairing.

With two high energy power forwards slapped together, the Hurricanes employ a really pestering pair against opposing power plays. They chase puck carriers all the way down on clears and are relentlessness with the way they hound puck carriers. The increased pressure often leads to rushed and botched plays.

A good energy unit helps to hem in tired units and shaves off extra time as opponents have to take the time to recollect. With their hyper-aggressive style, both Martinook and Foegele can play as F1 as both are more than willing to crash into the offensive zone due to their confidence in their skating to get back.

Additional

  • Lucas Wallmark
HockeyViz.com

Wallmark’s primary function on the penalty kill shifted as the year progressed. From a faceoff only option early on to a more trusted role to maintain a prolonged shift, Wallmark’s penalty kill play was night and day.

The biggest issue with Wallmark’s penalty killing before was his timidity. The Hurricanes employ an aggressive penalty kill for a reason and that’s to limit the time and space of opposing power plays. With Wallmark constantly flatfooted and stationary near the slot, it allowed opposing teams all the time in the world to get the lanes and looks they were after.

However, as the season went on, Wallmark started to gain more confidence on the kills and looked strong when being aggressive on carriers. While never a number one option, his faceoff numbers at a little over 40% combined with his improved defensive awareness and aggression helped make him valuable.

  • Erik Haula
HockeyViz.com

Before his injury, Haula was one of the Hurricanes’ steady kill starters. His obligations were that typical of a 2C, but with his slow return, the time Haula was given and trusted diminished more and more.

  • Vincent Trocheck
HockeyViz.com

Although his time was limited, Trocheck being both strong in the faceoff dot and a defensively responsible forward should bode well for his responsibilities as 2C.

Defense

Defensemen (Regular Season)

Player Goals Against Total PK Ice Time PK Efficiency Rate
Player Goals Against Total PK Ice Time PK Efficiency Rate
Trevor van Riemsdyk 3 59:49 19:56
Haydn Fleury 3 35:19 11:46
Joel Edmundson 17 188:46 11:06
Brett Pesce 19 197:27 10:24
Jaccob Slavin 23 209:10 9:06
Dougie Hamilton 14 108:25 7:45

Brett Pesce and Joel Edmundson

HockeyViz.com
HockeyViz.com

The Hurricanes’ most turned to defensive pair, which were first out in over 45% of penalty kills, exhibited a strong presence within the defensive zone. Typically Pesce played as D2, being either the only defensemen back or the one who meets the skaters at the blueline.

The pair worked well together as a unit, being able to jump in to help along the boards or behind the net with little risk. Both brought a physical element to the kill as well, making it hard for skaters to simply stickhandle in close to the net.

The pair combined for 10 takeawsys, nine hits and 47 blocked shots while facing a man disadvantage with 12 offensive shots generated and four penalties drawn.

Pesce was the most aggressive of all defensive penalty killers, running the gambit from fully committing to chasing after puck carriers to hopping into the offensive zone.

Edmundson utilizes his size and physicality in a defensive role better on the penalty kill than he did at even strength play last season. Able to block shots, use his stick to disrupt plays and be physical along the boards all led him to be a very effective penalty killer.

Jaccob Slavin and Dougie Hamilton

HockeyViz.com
HockeyViz.com

Another solid pair, the Hurricanes’ second defensive unit, which saw nearly 25% of starts, is the Hurricanes’ best offense generating pair and that is shown in the heat maps. While most of the other defensemen tend to stay close to home on the kill, Slavin and Hamilton push the pace of play out of their own zone rather than weather it.

Hamilton took on the role of D2 on this unit, mostly playing a 1-2-1 deep, as he was still being acclimated to killing penalties. It was one of the things he wanted to do for the team starting last season and he was worked in slowly.

The pair combined for 17 takeaways, 8 hits, 40 blocked shots, all while generating 19 shots on the offensive end in only a limited amount of time as Hamilton would miss the remainder of the regular season after sustaining a leg injury in mid-January.

Slavin’s ability to use his stick in tight and to break up so many plays is astounding and Hamilton has learned a bit on how to use his size more effectively with his stick as well. Slavin has always been a defensive guy, but Hamilton’s growth into a complete player has been a welcome addition to the team.

It’s no secret that Hamilton is a fan of offense and with him comes Slavin to help generate some momentum. Neither is afraid to jump into the offensive zone on the kill if the forwards are maintaining possession.

Additional

Trevor van Riemsdyk

HockeyViz.com

After Dougie Hamilton went down with injury, van Riemsdyk became Slavin’s most consistent partner. TvR wasn’t as aggressive a killer as Hamilton, but in his limited minutes, van Riemsdyk operated at a very efficient rate. His skating wasn’t anything to write home about, so he was more conservative with his defensive play, but his stick and body positioning were solid.

Haydn Fleury

HockeyViz.com

Never a fully trusted member of the defense, it took a while before Fleury even saw semi-consistent numbers on the kill and even that took two injuries to force Brind’Amour’s hand. With Fleury, the Canes had a player who played in more of a sheltered defensive role with the kill. He didn’t exhibit much aggression, but that may have been more of a factor of trepidation for screwing up than anything.

If he can get extended time next season, Fleury has a good chance to blossom even further and take up a key role on special teams.

Brady Skjei

HockeyViz.com

Despite limited numbers, Skjei may very well become a staple for the Hurricanes’ kill next season. In his 19:16 of regular season penalty kill time, Skjei wasn’t on the ice for any conceded goals. It makes sense that he will fill into Edmundson’s spot with Pesce, and traditionally defensive pairs will play together on the kill and sense Pesce is a critical penalty killer, so too must Skjei become.

Weaknesses

Overload

The Hurricanes generally employ an aggressive overload style of defending with all of their units that sees sometimes up to all four skaters tracking to one side of the ice.

This then leaves at least one and in some cases even two opposing skaters open. With the overload, the Hurricanes have a good shot at winning the puck in those battles and if the puck comes free to one of the open players, the goaltender at least gets a clear line of sight on the shot.

The overload can be a successful tactic, but it’s costly when it comes up short.

Blueline Collapse

Generally if four players collapse onto a single puck carrier, the odds of knocking that puck loose is tremendously high, but if a player is able to skate, stickhandle or pass through the blueline trap they gain a clean entry and even may be able to face off directly against the goaltender.

Man-Off

The Hurricanes don’t necessarily play a man-on nor zone based defensive system on the kill, but more of a bastardized hybrid of it. It wouldn’t make any sense to man up in a situation where you are at a man disadvantage, but the Hurricanes will always attack the puck carrier with either one or two skaters.

The defense works in a general zone and are the primary chaser only if they are the closest player to an opposing puck carrier. The general rule is for players to ignore opposing players that take up a position at the net-front. Occasionally also the D2 will also jump behind the goal line to cut off outlet passes or close the space behind the net from opposing skaters.

When this happens, more players can get in close to the net for easy tip-ins and shots.


Carolina has consistently had a strong kill year in and year out and next season should be no different. Although a few regular names will no longer be with the team, the strong core and improved additions should see even stronger performances next season.

(Heat map charts are from HockeyViz.com and ice time statistics as well as a few other various stats are from NaturalStatTrick.com. Charts on PK efficiency as well as other graphs are from myself)