The penalty kill is literally killing the Ottawa Senators.
Now the Senators actually have the sixth worst penalty kill in the league, but the play of the team comes off far worse than that statistic indicates. The Sens have been shorthanded 151 times, tied for third least in the NHL, but still have a PK% of just 76.82. The poor play and uninspired formations have all contributed to the Sens’ PK hampering them in many games.
Outright choosing a scapegoat for this is a difficult and, quite frankly, unnecessary matter. There are multiple issues that need to be addressed in order to fix the penalty kill as we enter the final stretch of the season.
For the penalty kill, head coach Guy Boucher has a specific selection of players he uses.
Up front he uses Jean-Gabriel Pageau (2:01 shorthanded TOI per game) and Magnus Paajarvi (2:03 TOI) more than other forwards. That doesn’t mean others aren’t used, guys like Zack Smith (1:46 TOI) and Chris Tierney (1:41 TOI) are used regularly as well.
Besides Tierney and Smith (5.8 and 1.9 relative Corsi percentage, respectively), all of those players have inadequate possession numbers. Pageau’s is especially shocking, a -15.8 relative Corsi percentage and 4.2 GA/60. Now that might improve as he plays in more games, but it’s a horrible look for one of the team’s better players.
The defensemen are a tad better possession wise, but that doesn’t excuse their play, especially Cody Ceci. It is difficult to watch a Sens game and not see Twitter explode because of Ceci’s bad positioning or careless play, particularly on the penalty kill. His 9.8 GA/60 is second worst on the team among players who average over a minute of ice-time on the PK. It may be a cliché to criticize him, but Ceci has been a defensive liability for the Sens, even strength or otherwise.
When it comes to killing penalties, it is not uncommon for a coach’s game plan to have the players for a box or a diamond in their defensive zone to take away passing zones.
The problem with the tactics used by the Ottawa Senators is that they sit back in a box and let the teams pass the puck like its hot potato. They aren’t aggressive, they just sit back and watch the puck without attempting to make a play for it, even when it is along the boards. Yes, if one player leaves the formation then it opens the team up, but applying pressure on the attacking team is the best way to get the puck out of the zone.
If Guy Boucher and Martin Raymond (The same Martin Raymond whom multiple Senators criticized in that leaked Uber video) want to improve their PK, then they will have to change-up their strategy to keep opponents on their toes and force them to make mistakes. Laying back and letting teams set up plays in the offensive zone is the first step in allowing too many goals on the PK.
It Leaves The Goalies Out To Dry
But if the four players on the ice and the formations/tactics collapse, it helps to have a reliable goalie in net to keep the team alive.
But when the penalty kill is so poor, it leaves goalies to be nothing more than meat shields to the shots of other teams. Take Craig Anderson for example. Anderson is 11th in the NHL in power play saves with 154 and 11th in power play shots against with 178. That sounds great, but he has still allowed 24 goals for a PPSV% of just .865.
To give you an idea of how burnt out Anderson is on the PK, he has faced 62 more PP shots the Cam Ward of the Chicago Blackhawks. For reference, the Blackhawks have the worst penalty kill in the NHL
There’s only so much a goalie can do but when the team in front of you is picked apart by passes and slick play, the man between the pipes is going to have a tough time making saves.
Find A System That Works
Maybe it is the fact that the players aren’t elite enough to consistently perform well on the PK. Maybe it is because the coaching and tactics are out of date and can be picked apart with effective passing. Maybe it is the goaltending being burnt out. But really, it is all of the above.
If the Ottawa Senators want to compete in future seasons (Seeing as how this one is a lost cause), they are going to have to find a way to be a solid penalty killing team. Despite the low penalty total and solid discipline on most nights, if you can’t get a PK system to work, you’re not going to have success in the NHL.