NOTE: All statistics from late December when original draft was written.
Carolina is where penalties go to die.
Okay, so that’s a bit overdramatic, but it is a very true fact that, amongst the team’s many flaws and shortcomings, the penalty kill has been flat out dominant. How dominant? They’ve allowed just seven goals in the 87 times the Hurricanes have played a man down this season. I want to reiterate that. 31 games played. 7 power play goals against the Hurricanes and an incredible 91.3% kill rate. This article will dive a little deeper into Carolina’s truly elite unit.
Four things to know about penalty killing statistics:
1. The Hurricanes have served the fewest penalty minutes in the league this season, having taken 199 minutes worth of penalties. That tends to be helpful.
2. The Rangers have taken the second fewest at 230 minutes. Their PK has allowed 15. Those miscreants over in St. Louis have taken 335 minutes of penalties, but allowed only 14 goals during that time. They’re 2nd in the NHL with an 88% kill rate.
3. The NHL began calculating penalty kill percentage for the 1987-88 season. Since that time zero teams have finished with a PK % better than 90%. The record is 89.6% by the 2011-12 Devils
4. The Hurricanes are also tied for 3rd in the NHL with 4 shorthanded goals. And some of them have been decisively beautiful
Say what you want about the goaltending flaws or the lack of scoring or the plethora of multi-goal leads the team has blown. The penalty kill has been unarguably brilliant.
Carolina’s Resurgence is Being Built on the PK
That the Hurricanes have a successful PK is not a new phenomenon. It’s actually been good for a few years. Take a look back at the last three seasons:
2015-16 season: 84.3% kill rate (6th in NHL)
2014-15 season: 84.7% kill rate (4th in NHL)
2013-14 season: 81.7% kill rate (17th in NHL)
Wait a second… the 2014-15 Hurricanes team killed penalties at a 3% better clip than the year prior, when the only meaningful new player was rookie Victor Rask who doesn’t even play significant penalty kill minutes. That’s because the most impactful Hurricane penalty-killer during this period is not a player. It’s assistant coach Steve Smith.
A Hurricane Hallelujah for Steve Smith
Smith was hired as one of new head coach Bill Peters staff on June 23, 2014. As coordinator of the Hurricanes penalty kill, Smith prepares the video sessions and prepares the players for the specific team they’re going out to face next. But as the N&O’s Chip Alexander found out from PK stalwart Jay McClement, the real key was teaching the positioning. “We’re pressuring when we need to, making the right reads,” McClement said. “You’re going to give up shots but you want to give up the least dangerous shots.”
It sounds so simple, when he says it like that, but somehow Smith has really clicked the Hurricanes PK light ‘on’ from the moment he showed up. And now that the talent level has gotten a bit of a boost in Raleigh, the PK has jumped from really good, to the elite unit of the entire NHL.
Why Is Smith That Important?
Even in that 8-6 defense-free, chaotic, goal-crazy freak show of a game against Vancouver last week, Smith’s group successfully killed both Vancouver power-plays. Given the roller-coaster season Canes Nation has endured so far, perhaps no one sums up the PK importance better than Bill Peters did in that N&O piece,
Quite simply, Smith and his penalty kill have been one of Bill Peters best, albeit most unheralded, tools towards building that gritty, defensive identity that has been the foundation of the Hurricanes steady improvement. Steve Smith himself, has been nothing short of the ultimate secret weapon in our rebuilding process. But some rather important folks in the Hurricanes organization appeared to have known that when they hired him
That was the exact quote from GM Ron Francis, during Steve Smith’s hiring announcement. Let’s see, have we had any young defensemen come in and excel since the Smith hiring? Only half of our top 6, with a 4th (Matt Tennyson) having a career best year, after being stuck as an extra-defensemen/AHL stalwart with the Sharks.
Defense is the Foundation of the Hurricanes’ Rebuild
Whether you give the credit to Smith, Peters or Francis, what has transpired with the rise of Slavin, Pesce and (to an extent) Hanifin, along with the extreme dominance of the Canes PK, has been nothing short of an amazing development for the team, and it’s high time Steve Smith got his due. Unless that means Toronto steals him with their massive piles of cash hidden in their secret vault underneath a mystery Tim Horton’s. Because if you value the Hurricanes’ success as much as I do, you do not want this generically-named miracle man to leave.