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The Penalty Kill is Killing It

The Devils are taking lots of penalties, too many. However, they are being bailed out by a dominant PK, which is playing lights out at the moment. In my opinion, that has been a super important reason for the early success of this club.

Colorado Avalanche v New Jersey Devils
I apologize for the title pun.
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Want a sad fact about the New Jersey Devils so far? I know you probably don’t, but check this out anyway: after Saturday’s game against Florida, the Devils ranked 29th in the NHL in PK ice minutes per game at 7 minutes and 22 seconds. The team with the most PK minutes per game, Tampa Bay, was at 7:29 per game, only 7 seconds per game more than NJ. That’s like what, one more minor penalty over the course of the season?

The reason I bring this up is that it is obvious to anyone watching that the Devils have a discipline problem. I don’t mean a discipline problem that causes a fractured locker room, like you might claim if you root for the football Giants and dislike OBJ. What I mean, however, is a discipline problem on the ice. I mean, how frustrating was it on Saturday to watch Miles Wood take not one, or two, but three penalties in the first period? That really hurt, and as the official AATJ Twitter account succinctly stated, “he’s making this very hard on his teammates.”

A week ago, John wrote how these penalty minutes were hurting this team in many different ways, even though the penalty kill unit was dominating. A week later, all of those arguments still hold weight. However, what I want to hone in on today is the positive of this penalty kill. When a team has an on-ice discipline problem like New Jersey currently does, they need a strong PK to overcome that and remain in games. And the Devils have exactly that.

After the game on Saturday, the Devils were ranked 4th in the NHL in PK percentage at 87.9%. That is an excellent number, and if it pans out across the season, will mean really positive things for this team. That percentage is buoyed by the fact that they are 9th in the NHL in CA/60 when killing, with their number sitting at 92.52. Even better, while only 9th in Corsi attempts against per 60, they are dominant when it comes to shots against per 60. Their SA/60 sits at 38.63 when killing, good for 2nd in the league, behind only Washington. And even better than that, while their CA/60 is only 9th, their high danger Corsi attempts against per 60 when killing, or HDCA/60, is the best in the league, sitting at a pearly 9.15. No other team has a HDCA/60 under 13.25 when on the penalty kill.

For those of you who gloss over numbers and don’t really take them in, what is clear is that the Devils have been stellar on the PK so far this year, and they are not just getting lucky (in fact, their PDO while on the penalty kill highlights that they have in fact been unlucky, with that number sitting at 89.5). The underlying numbers show a team that is doing a wonderful job of preventing opposition from getting quality looks on net.

And perhaps most important to the overall health of this penalty kill unit, the player usage on the PK from Saturday highlights that it is not just a few players who are eating up all of the PK minutes while others sit idle. This is especially true for the blue line. When looking at PK time on ice from the game against Florida, we see five defensemen who essentially had at least two minutes of killing time (Severson had 1 minute and 58 seconds, so let’s round that up to 2 minutes to make it easier). Andy Greene was out there a ton, with over four minutes of PK time, but then you had Sami Vatanen, Mirco Mueller, Eric Gryba and Damon Severson all chipping in with fairly significant PK minutes. John Hynes and Alain Nasreddine were not simply relying on the top PK unit to handle most of the duties. They were quite alright with spreading out the killing responsibilities to all the defensemen except Will Butcher. Yes Greene was a workhorse, but the others were all important to the PK on Saturday, and all performed well to keep Florida out of the net.

For the forwards, the duties were not spread around quite the same. In reality, Hynes and Co. kept to the two PK units involving Blake Coleman, Pavel Zacha, Brian Boyle and Travis Zajac. All of them received at least 2:30 of ice time on the kill. Kevin Rooney was also involved to the extent of a minute 46, but that was it. However, those top four have been dominant at killing penalties and work really well together, so there are no worries there.

In the end, John is of course correct in saying that even if the team has a lights out PK, those minutes spent killing penalties are minutes you really cannot attack and push forward. That will always be true, and as along as the Devils have the third most penalty minutes in the NHL, that will remain a significant issue. However, given that they are taking lots of penalties, having a strong PK is vital to remain in close games and get wins. And thankfully, the Devils have one of the best PK units in the league. They will need that moving forward until they can figure out their on-ice discipline issues.

How important do you think the Devils’ PK has been to the success of this team so far? What do you see as the major reasons for this unit’s success in the early parts of the season? What do the Devils need to do moving forward to take fewer penalties? Please leave your comments below, and thanks for reading.