2011-12 Season Preview Part 2: The Penalty Kill

We continue our preview of new season for the Montreal Canadiens started yesterday hereRather than review the basic and familiar counting statistic (goals, assists etc.) I will be taking a look at how well players have performed on a per-minute basis. As a single season is a poor indicator of a player’s real talents and expected future performance, both the last season and the 4 year average performance will be examined. The 4 year averages are weighted according to total minutes played which avoids placing too much weight in low-ice time years or season cut down by injury. After the last article on the power play we continue with the other special team, the penalty kill, which has seen some turnover with the loss of last years main stays Halpern and Pyatt and the addition of PK ace Blair Betts.

 

Much like the power play, Montreal has been a good penalty kill team since the lockout, although with nowhere near the level of dominance. A large portion of that success can be attributed to consistently strong goaltending but the skaters deserve credit as well.

Year

PK%

Ranking

SHGA

SHG

Adjusted

Total GA

Non PP GA

PK % GA

2005-06

81.1

21

91

10

83.18

244

153

37.30

2006-07

83.5

13

69

17

87.57

251

182

27.49

2007-08

82.5

15

62

8

84.76

216

154

28.70

2008-09

84.5

11

65

10

86.88

240

175

27.08

2009-10

83.0

12

53

4

84.28

218

165

24.31

2010-11

84.4

7

51

5

85.92

206

155

24.76

Combined with a strong power play, Montreal has had the ability to sustain significantly positive goal differential on special teams that has compensated for the tendency towards weak 5 on 5 play.

Montreal's penalty killing corps has taken a beating during the off-season, with Jeff Halpern, Tom Pyatt and Roman Hamrlik who all played significant 2nd unit penalty kill time leaving. However, the top unit of Plekanec, Moen, Gill and Gorges/Subban is completely intact and poised for another strong season. The collection of penalty kill talent on Montreal's squad is outstanding. Of the 212 forwards that have played more than 200 PK minutes in the past 4 years they have 5 of the top 25 forwards in penalty kill goals against rate (Cole, Gomez, Plekanec, Gionta, Betts), the number one and number 2 forwards with more than 500 minutes of penalty kill play (Betts and Plekanec), 2 of the top twenty penalty kill defenseman with 500 or more PK minutes (Gill and Gorges) and one of last season's top penalty kill defensemen in the league (Subban).

Once again rate stats are taken based on 60 minutes of 4 on 5 penalty killing. As the converse to the power play, average penalty killing allows around 5.5-6 goals per 60, while anything below 4.5 is very strong and below 4 is elite to the point of being unsustainable.

The Primary Defenders:

Plekanec

Goals Against

Goals Against per 60 minutes

Minutes per Game

Save Percentage

Points per 60 Minutes

Team Goals per 60 Minutes

Team Blocked Shots per 60

Last Season

15

4.53

2.58

0.913

0.60

0.60

24.5

Past 4 Season

14.3

5.06

2.14

0.896

0.84

0.94

26.6

As part of Plekanec's role as the best all round forward on the Habs' roster, Plekanec looks to once again lead the penalty killing forwards. Plekanec plays big penalty kill minutes and consistently gets good results, as his solid 5.06 goals against stat in over 2 minutes per game demonstrates. His rate is the best amongst penalty kill forwards with more than 500 minutes over the past 4 years. Plekanec's role as a top line player that also plays the most important defensive minutes on even strength and the penalty kill is a rarity that puts in elite company amongst 2-way forwards. Plekanec is also a good scoring threat on the powerplay, with a team leading 0.94 team goals per 60 minutes.

 

Moen

Goals Against

Goals Against per 60 minutes

Minutes per Game

Save Percentage

Points per 60 Minutes

Team Goals per 60 Minutes

Team Blocked Shots per 60

Last Season

15

4.91

2.32

0.911

0.33

0.65

23.9

Past 4 Season

19.8

6.05

2.47

0.883

0.54

0.69

21.3

Moen had a stronger than average penalty kill year last season and is a solid penalty kill forward (32nd among PK forwards with more than 500 minutes over the past 4 years). He does not appear to be the most talented penalty killer but playing him does not cost the ice-time of a superior 5 on 5 or power play player while being almost as good, so playing him has more marginal value.

 

Betts

Goals Against

Goals Against per 60 minutes

Minutes per Game

Save Percentage

Points per 60 Minutes

Team Goals per 60 Minutes

Last Season

21

4.87

1.37

0.898

0.46

0.7

Past 4 Season

17.25

4.51

3.45

0.891

0.53

0.8

The most recent acquisition (and reason why publishing this preview had to be rewritten), Betts is one of the NHL's top penalty killing specialists. He has lead his team amongst forwards in 4 on 5 icetime for the past 3 years (and was 2nd 4 years ago), meaning he had heavy penalty killing responsibilities. Despite this he was consistently one of the best in the league in goals against amongst forwards during this time span. As the new 4th line center for Montreal expect him to play heavy penalty kill minutes, he may finally be a player good enough to push Plekanec from the top penalty killing unit. Not bad for a player picked up for free.

 

Gill

Goals Against

Goals Against per 60 minutes

Minutes per Game

Save Percentage

Points per 60 Minutes

Team Goals per 60 Minutes

Team Blocked Shots per 60

Last Season

16

3.57

3.58

0.927

0.22

0.45

25.0

Past 4 Season

24.4

5.44

3.55

0.889

0.18

0.41

25.6

Every season Gill is called upon to play big penalty kill minutes and usually he comes up with a better than average performance, with defensemen that have played more than 500 PK minutes over the past 4 years, Gill ranks 19th in terms of goals against, a testament to his consistant prowess. Last year went beyond that, as he lived up to his reputation as one of the premier penalty kill defensemen in the league with a miniscule 3.57 goals against was among the tops in the league. Gills yearly performance is sharply correlated with the goaltending he got behind him, as last year's numbers reflect. It's doubtful that such a level of play can be sustained long-term but Gill should be counted on 3-4 minutes of quality penalty kill play per game. The save percentage behind Gill is typically higher than expected, which may reflect his noticeable skill at defending the area close to the net.

 

Gorges

Goals Against

Goals Against per 60 minutes

Minutes per Game

Save Percentage

Points per 60 Minutes

Team Goals per 60 Minutes

Team Blocked Shots per 60

Last Season

10

4.67

3.57

0.895

0.00

0.93

31.3

Past 4 Season

16

5.18

2.78

0.893

0.09

0.81

29.6

The team blocked shots king, Gorges has posted consistently strong numbers on the penalty kill since he came to Montreal. So strong in fact that he ranks 3rd overall in goals against rate among defensemen with more than 500 PK minutes over the past 3 years (behind Ehrhoff and Mike Weaver). None of the other veteran defensemen can match his goals against figures for the past 4 years, or the continually strong save percentage behind Gorges. Gorges is another quality penalty kill defender than can be relied on big minutes there every game.

 

The Secondary Defenders:

Gomez

Goals Against

Goals Against per 60 minutes

Minutes per Game

Save Percentage

Points per 60 Minutes

Team Goals per 60 Minutes

Team Blocked Shots per 60

Last Season

5

5.01

0.96

0.911

0.78

0.78

25.0

Past 4 Season

7.5

4.80

1.43

0.904

0.47

0.61

23.1

Gomez has been a surprisingly good penalty kill player in his career. His goals against for the past for season is strong, ranked 21st among forwards with more than 200 penalty kill minutes during that time. He's never been his team's primary PK center despite very good goals against stats but that is not entirely surprising, given that he's typically been one of his team's most important centers on 5 on 5 and the power play. With the departure of Halpern and the growing even strength abilities of Eller and Desharnais, expect Gomez to take on more penalty kill time than he has previously.

 

Gionta

Goals Against

Goals Against per 60 minutes

Minutes per Game

Save Percentage

Points per 60 Minutes

Team Goals per 60 Minutes

Team Blocked Shots per 60

Last Season

9

5.23

1.9

0.922

0.77

0.77

22.4

Past 4 Season

8.5

5.57

1.56

0.894

1.01

1.01

22.1

Much like Gomez, Gionta has not played big penalty kill minutes in the past but has proven fairly effective at it, ranking 25th in goals against per minute of forwards with more than 200 penalty kill minutes over the past 4 years. Together they look to be a solid second penalty killing duo, moving up from third to second unit to replace the loss of Halpern and Pyatt. Having two offensively capable players on the penalty kill should also net a few extra short-handed goals as bonus.

 

Subban

Goals Against

Goals Against per 60 minutes

Minutes per Game

Save Percentage

Points per 60 Minutes

Team Goals per 60 Minutes

Team Blocked Shots per 60

Last Season

10

3.20

2.38

0.938

0.00

0.32

17.0

Subban's special teams dominance continues on the penalty kill. His goals against is superlative, the 2nd highest in the entire league amongst defensemen averaging more than 2 minutes per game (behind only Christian Ehrhoff). As it currently stands, no player that has logged more penalty kill minutes in the last 4 years has a better goals against rate than Subban. He could easily play first unit with Gill or Gorges but in my judgement there is more relative value in giving him lesser penalty kill duties as he is also vital for 5 on 5 and power play time while Gorges and Gill do not have such responsibilities.

 

Markov

Goals Against

Goals Against per 60 minutes

Minutes per Game

Save Percentage

Points per 60 Minutes

Team Goals per 60 Minutes

Team Blocked Shots per 60

Last Season

11

6.84

2.04

0.853

0.62

0.62

18.7

Past 4 Seasons

24

6.82

2.79

0.857

0.51

1.03

25.1

Markov is an elite player at many things but penalty killing is not one of them. After the area of other penalty kill talents Montreal has assembled, Markov looks shabby in comparison. Then again, with the talent Montreal has, the team doesn't need anything more than "basically competent" from the fourth defenseman on the penalty kill depth chart. He probably could be replaced with Spacek here, which would free him for other assignments where he can make more of an impact. Notably, the team's save percentage is much weaker for Markov than Gill or Gorges, suggesting that very good penalty kill defenders may have much more of an effect on shot quality on the penalty kill than even strength.

 

The Others:

Cole

Goals Against

Goals Against per 60 minutes

Minutes per Game

Save Percentage

Points per 60 Minutes

Team Goals per 60 Minutes

Team Blocked Shots per 60

Last Season

9

4.28

1.37

0.909

1.07

2.13

21.3

Past 4 Season

7.03

4.41

1.22

0.904

0.37

0.73

21.7

It's strange that Cole has not played more on the penalty kill because it appears that he's very good at it. His goals against rate is the strongest amongst veteran forwards and backed by some relative good short-handed offense. As he seems like an unlikely candidate for major powerplay time, perhaps he will be paired with Plekanec instead of Moen as the top penalty kill duo.

 

Desharnais

Goals Against

Goals Against per 60 minutes

Minutes per Game

Save Percentage

Points per 60 Minutes

Team Goals per 60 Minutes

Team Blocked Shots per 60

Last Season

3

4.59

0.91

0.857

0

0

15.3

Desharnais was quite capable in the limited penalty kill time he played last season. However, I doubt a player without a full NHL season under his belt will be trusted to be a regular penalty killing center ahead of veterans like Plekanec or Gomez.  He's an intriguing option for when one of them takes or a penalty or goes down with injury though.

 

Spacek

Goals Against

Goals Against per 60 minutes

Minutes per Game

Save Percentage

Points per 60 Minutes

Team Goals per 60 Minutes

Team Blocked Shots per 60

Last Season

13

6.02

2.2

0.877

0.46

0.93

20.4

Past 4 Season

14.1

5.94

2.09

0.873

0.22

0.67

22

Spacek's penalty killing numbers closely resemble those of Markov, which is to say that he seems reasonably competent but not anything more than that. He'd make for an adequate 2nd unit defender if necessary but without a particular skill for that aspect of the game and the need to limit the minutes played by a 37 year old defensemen means he isn't likely to be a big PK minute eater.

 

 

As a whole, Montreal appears quite capable of putting out 2 very effective defensive units when down a man. They range from the elite to the competent and unless injuries decimate them they look to be quite capable of being an above average team on the PK once again. The biggest problem is that the best defenders are also some of the team’s best even strength and power play players, meaning that more offensive minutes will be taken by lesser lights this year. This is where the improvements in Montreal’s offensive depth will be critical to take advantage of the offensive minutes opened up.

However, if Markov is injured for a significant period to start the season as some suspect is the case, the matter becomes significantly more complicated. Subban can be expected to carry a strong pairing essentially by himself with minimal help from his partner as he’s done with Gill.

Usage may get complicated with the main decision whether to lead with Betts or Plekanec on forward. Personally I would have the two 4th line defensive specialists out first with Gorges and Gill as the top pairing.

Betts-Moen

Gill-Gorges

Which has the advantage of using only defensive specialists for the biggest penalty killing minutes, leaving the top two way players getting more even strength ice time. This can be followed with a second unit of:

Plekanec-Cole

Markov-Subban

Another strong unit that keeps the even strength forward groups together, minimizing post-penalty line disruption. This is also a fantastic short handed offense unit that can victimize the lesser defensive abilities of power play formations with strong puck retrieval and excellent speed and puck movement to get chances off the rush. Also, as Cole is not a strong power play performer and likely not to get big minutes there in the face of Montreal's better options, he should be fresh for penalty killing duties. Gomez, Gionta and Spacek can fill in as necessary in case of penalties to the first eight skaters.

Overall, the combination of elite penalty kill players at every position and a top notch goaltender in Carry Price, Montreal should have no problem being amoungst the top 10 penalty kill teams again this season and top 5 is easily within reach.

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