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Blackhawks’ penalty kill needs to step up again vs. Golden Knights

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Chicago will face another top-10 power play when they play their first-round series against Vegas, which has two power-play units that can score.

NHL: Chicago Blackhawks at Vegas Golden Knights Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

When Alex DeBrincat took a five-minute major penalty for boarding Ethan Bear early in the second period during Game 4 against the Oilers, it made sense to panic. The Blackhawks had allowed at least one power-play goal in each of the first three games of the Stanley Cup Qualifier series.

But with some help from Darnell Nurse’s minor interference penalty, the Blackhawks killed DeBrincat’s major without allowing a goal against the NHL’s best power play during the regular season. In 9:03, the most penalty kill time the Blackhawks had in a game during the series, they didn’t allow a single goal in Game 4. They also put up their best offensive numbers, taking three shorthanded shots and a .2 expected goal(s). That’s while Duncan Keith (28:03, 5:43 PK), Connor Murphy (25:12, 5:18 PK) and Ryan Carpenter (14:35, 5:24 PK) played the most time during a single game in the series.

But the best penalty killers were Calvin de Haan (3:19) and Jonathan Toews (3:10. De Haan allowed two shots, one high-danger chance and the fewest expected goals (.19), while Toews allowed the second-fewest expected goals (.32).

Chicago gradually improved on the penalty kill during the series. Corey Crawford’s eight saves on the penalty kill helped in Game 4, but the players in front of him having their best game led to that.

The Blackhawks allowed their fewest shots against (on a per minute basis) on the penalty kill in Game 4, allowing just .88, down from .92 in both Game 2 and 3, and down from 1.3 in Game 1. They allowed just .11 expected goals against per minute, a result of their series-best 1.03 expected goals against.

The Oilers’ power play rose from 95.55 shot attempts per 60 to 97.58, from 52.46 shots per 60 to 58.13, and from 7.32 expected goals per 60 to 8.85. While the Blackhawks’ penalty kill did improve, those first two games were quite bad. It’s also a warning sign a better power play like the Golden Knights’, which is better in every statistical category except shooting percentage and high-danger chances, could do the same.

Chicago’s penalty kill won’t get a break in the Western Conference first round because they face Vegas, which had a top-10 power play during the season. The Golden Knights had even better metrics than the Oilers, who skated by on the NHL’s highest shooting percentage.

Vegas had 112.29 shot attempts per 60, 61.06 shots per 60, and 7.4 expected goals per 60. Those marks went down during its three round-robin games, although their goals per 60 went up from 7.98 to 8.42 thanks to a higher shooting percentage. That stat went up without Max Pacioretty, who a team-high eight power-play goals for the Golden Knights. He’s expected to return from an undisclosed injury for Game 1.

The Golden Knights’ power play has just as much right to be feared as Edmonton’s because Vegas has two units that can score. Edmonton’s five power-play goals against Chicago all came from their first unit, with three from Connor McDavid, and one each from Leon Draisaitl and James Neal. Meanwhile, Vegas’ four power-play goals during the round robin games were scored by Jonathan Marchessault (two), Alex Tuch (one) and Shea Theodore (one). Marchessault and Theodore are on the first unit and Tuch is on the second.

First unit: Paul Stastny, William Karlsson, Mark Stone, Marchessault and Theodore
Second unit: Tuch, Nick Cousins, Reilly Smith, Nate Schmidt and Alec Martinez

With Pacioretty back in the lineup, either Stastny (five power-play goals, five assists) or Karlsson (two power-play goals, eight assists) will replace Cousins (one power-play goal) on the second unit. Smith scored a career-high 27 goals (three on power play) and Martinez had eight points (two power-play assists) in 10 games with Vegas.

The Golden Knights were 2-for-7 on the power play in three games this season against Chicago, with Crawford allowing both goals. Karlsson scored with assists to Marchessault and Tuch in Chicago’s 5-3 win Nov. 13 in Vegas then Smith scored with assists to Schmdit to Nicolas Hague in the Golden Knights’ 5-1 home win Dec. 10.

Chicago’s improvement on the penalty kill will be necessary going forward. If the Blackhawks keep taking penalties like they did against Edmonton, there could be just as much hell to pay, if not more, against Vegas.

Editor’s note: Vegas’ round-robin games weren’t as important as the Blackhawks’ qualifier games and weren’t the same quality but it’s the most recent sample size to work with.

Stats from NaturalStatTrick.com, Evolving-Hockey.com and Hockey-Reference.com