In a previous post, I documented the different penalty kill formations the Blackhawks use. I also discussed that they have been playing the box and a conservative wedge +1 this season with poor results. With minimal pressure, the opposition has plenty of time and space to operate their power play. The Blackhawks were allowing the opponent to be too comfortable. Recently, Chicago has turned up the heat adding more pressure to their penalty kill, which has increased success.
Let me show you what I mean. In this post I will show some highlights of the Blackhawks penalty kill’s vs the Calgary Flames. I will give a summary of each, but the one thing I want you to focus on is this. Does Calgary look comfortable?
Constant pressure. This is was you see above. Rasmussen comes out aggressively to pressure the point. Because of this pressure, Calgary has to quickly move the puck with an errant pass towards the near side boards. Keith pressures and the puck gets thrown around the wall to the far side boards, where the Calgary winger receives the puck. Instantly, Tyler Motte is there to apply pressure and Rozsival is in the shooting lane. Motte is preventing the pass back to the point. The Calgary Flame player must get rid of the puck quickly, and does so by taking a poor shot attempt that goes wide. Rasmussen chases down the puck and clears it.
Previously, the Blackhawks didn’t pressure the outside that often. They would stay in close to the net. This would allow the opposition to comfortably move the puck around the outside and set up a play. Notice the difference above? Does any Flame look comfortable to you? Do they have space and time to operate? No, they don’t. The added pressure results in the Flames not accomplishing much besides a forced, weak shot attempt.
Above, the Blackhawks lose the faceoff, but Toews applies immediate pressure to the corner point. The Calgary Flames player feels this pressure and dumps the puck down the boards. Eventually, Toews wins the puck battle along the boards, passes it out to Seabrook, and the puck is cleared.
Previously, Chicago would have sagged back toward the net after losing a clean faceoff where the opponent was in full possession of the puck. Now, the forward is pressuring all the way out to the blue line after losing the faceoff.
The Flames enter the zone, the puck is passed back to the defenseman, and he takes an extremely low percentage shot from the corner point. The puck goes wide and trickles its way towards the other corner point d-man who looks up to find Marian Hossa bearing down on him. The Flame d-man must get rid of the puck, because of Hossa’s pressure, and he chips it down toward the corner boards. There, Seabrook is able to poke the puck back up to Hossa who clears the puck.
The Flames were never comfortable. When teams add pressure, it forces the opponent into making mistakes. Too often this season, the Blackhawks sat back hoping the opponent would make mistakes on their own. This led to easy power play goals for the opposition as they faced hardly any pressure. As you can see, the Blackhawks don’t look passive at all anymore.
The forwards apply pressure until the far winger takes a quick shot attempt that goes wide and ends up on going to the near side blue line. The Flames point man immediately gets pressured by Toews, and the Calgary player sends a backhand pass down the boards.
If Hjalmarsson was playing conservatively here, he would have probably stayed near the net to protect the slot. Instead, he sees Toews applying the pressure and anticipates the pass by attacking the near side boards where Hjalmarsson stops the puck, wins the puck battle, and passes the puck to Marcus Kruger for the clear.
The penalty kill was not its usual passive self that we’ve seen this season. The forwards are attacking the blue line, the defensemen are attacking the side boards, and the puck is getting cleared.
Here is a long one that I’ll let you observe for yourself. The main thing I want to point out is even though the Blackhawks couldn’t clear the puck right away, they never stopped pressuring. They never gave up, sagged toward the net, and played passively. They could of gotten tired and sat back, but instead they kept the pressure up. And again I ask, do the Calgary Flames players ever look comfortable to you?
I can tell you the Blackhawks are pressuring more, but what does that mean? What’s the result?
This is why I have continually asked in this post about the comfort level of the opponent. To start the season, Chicago sat back, played passively, and did not pressure often. This resulted in the opponent having the comfort of time and space. The opponent didn’t have to force anything, because there was no pressure.
By adding more pressure, the Blackhawks are taking the opponent out of their comfort zone. They no longer have time and space to operate. They are now being forced into making mistakes because of this.
The Blackhawks were on the penalty kill four times in this game against Calgary. By playing aggressively, they were able to kill all four penalties.
And when Calgary watches the special teams game film today, they might be singing a Queen and David Bowie song.
“This is ourselves, under pressure.”