Ottawa's penalty kill is terrible. How can it be improved?

Harry How

The Ottawa Senators have been short-handed 16 times this season, and they've allowed four goals in that time--an unacceptably poor penalty-killing percentage. Why is it so bad, and how can it get better?

Two weeks ago, Amelia posed a pertinent question: What will the Senators' penalty kill look like in 2013-14? We're only three games into the season, but we've got an answer for the time being: TERRIBLE.

Right now, the Ottawa Senators are clicking along at a 75% penalty kill rate; of the nine goals the Senators have allowed this year, four have been on the powerplay. They're not quite as bad as the Chicago Blackhawks (who have allowed short-handed goals [five] more often than they've successfully killed off penalties [four] so far in the season), but allowing a goal in every four times short-handed isn't sustainable.

Last season, the Sens were tops in the NHL in penalty killing with an 88.8% kill rating. Some pretty ridiculous goaltending factored into that, but it's not the only explanation for the drop so far this season: Another reason for the struggles has got to be the roster turnover between last season and this.

In 2013, Eric Gryba and Sergei Gonchar were Ottawa's third and fourth most-commonly-used defencemen while short-handed. Although Gryba's still around, he only played one game--coincidentally or not, it was the only one where the Senators killed every penalty they were assessed. Two of the three forwards who averaged more than two minutes SH TOI/GP are gone (Kaspars Daugavins and Jim O'Brien), and four of the seven who averaged more than one minute aren't on the roster (Daniel Alfredsson, Derek Grant, Peter Regin, and Jakob Silfverberg). That's a pretty significant turnover.

So how can the Senators improve their penalty killing? Practice would be a great place to start, but the team's had a hard time working on systems since they've started the season with a six-game road trip. They could also make some roster changes. Adding Gryba back into the lineup (either in place of Joe Corvo or a superfluous forward) might help--although given time, I think Patrick Wiercioch could be a pretty good penalty killer. If team executives swallowed their pride and recalled O'Brien, and maybe Grant as well, they could improve the penalty-killing prowess of the forward ranks.

And although it wouldn't improve their penalty kill percentage, decreasing the number of stupid penalties taken (attention Chris Neil) would mitigate the damage caused by a lacklustre penalty kill.

Ottawa's penalty-killing numbers will almost certainly improve as the season goes on, no matter what the coaching staff does. But if the team wants to compete for the Atlantic Division title, it's going to need to improve significantly, and that's going to take some active work.

Thankfully, there are a few solid options to get it working again.

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