What Will the Senators Penalty Kill Look Like in 2013-2014?
Much of the Senators success during the 2012-2013 season was because of their strong defensive play. One particular success was the penalty kill which operated at a league-best 88% success rate. The Sens were successful at home and on the road on the PK, finishing with the 3rd best PK in both categories.
What should be expected from the penalty kill in 2013-2014? What familiar faces will make up the first and second units? Who will be added to the mix?
Obviously the record setting play of Craig Anderson last season, as well as strong contributions from backups Ben Bishop and Robin Lehner, helped established a dominant penalty kill. Ottawa's goaltending covered up many deficiencies in the team's penalty killing in 2012-2013. Ottawa finished 24th in shots against (SA) on the PK in the regular season, giving up a whopping 235 shots shorthanded. Of the six teams which finished below the Senators in SA, four were in the bottom 1/3 penalty kill efficiency. What's the difference between those teams (Carolina, Buffalo, Colorado, and Washington) and the Senators? Ottawa led the league in shorthanded save percentage (.928 SV%). Strong play from the tandem of Anderson and Lehner will go a long way to achieving a top-5 PK again.
With the return of a healthy Erik Karlsson and Jared Cowen and the departure of Sergei Gonchar the Sens defense will look a little different this season. Marc Methot led all Senators defensemen with 3:09 SH TOI/G last season and should be a fixture on the first unit. I would expect Jared Cowen, who averaged the second-most shorthanded ice time per game during his rookie season (trailing only Filip Kuba), to join Methot. The second unit defense pair is also fairly straightforward when Eric Gryba's in the lineup. While Gryba had difficulty adjusting to the NHL game in most situations, he did excel on the PK. Paul MacLean showed his trust in Gryba, as the rookie defenseman averaged more PK time than veteran Sergei Gonchar (2:21 SH TOI/G versus 2:14 SH TOI/G). Despite his advancing years, Chris Phillips continues to play big minutes on the penalty kill and once again averaged more than three minutes on the PK per game in 2012-2013 (3:07 SH TOI/G). However, when the defensive-minded Gryba isn't in the lineup, which defenseman fills that fourth spot? Joe Corvo played the least amount of time on the PK of any regular Carolina defender last season, averaging just 43 seconds per game shorthanded in 2012-2013. I would expect Erik Karlsson to see considerable time on the PK when Gryba's out of the lineup. Karlsson averaged 1:46 SH TOI/G in his abbreviated season, an improvement of more than 1:20 from the previous season. With the Senators proclivity for penalties (Ottawa was the third-most penalized team last season) and Karlsson pushing 30 minutes a game, some of that time is going to have to be made up on the penalty kill.
What about the forwards? Erik Condra is Ottawa's best penalty killer and is a lock to be on the first unit. While he only played 5 games before spending the rest of the regular season injured, Spezza played nearly two minutes a game on the PK (1:52 SH TOI/PK). Kyle Turris' development in Jason Spezza's absence had a direct result on the penalty kill last season. Turris averaged 1:25 SH TOI/G during the regular season and saw his PK responsibilities increase to 2:13 SH TOI/G in the playoffs. Yet the inclusion of Jean-Gabriel Pageau in the opening night lineup provides another centre option for Paul MacLean. Pageau is an excellent defensive player and averaged 1:20 SH TOI/G in the playoffs. A healthy Spezza, the emergence of Turris, and the inclusion of Pageau should offset the loss of forwards Kaspars Daugavins, Jim O'Brien, and Peter Regin, all top penalty killers in terms of TOI for the Sens last season.
The Sens offseason moves have impacted their wing options on the penalty kill. After Erik Condra, Daniel Alfredsson, Milan Michalek, and Jakob Silfverberg led all Sens wingers in average PK minutes per game. Alfredsson and Silfverberg are no longer an option. With Michalek's chronic knee injury, I expect his PK time to be limited this season. Colin Greening seems poised to replace Michalek's even strength and power play minutes once Milan's current contract runs out and I don't see any reason why that shouldn't extend to the penalty kill as well. Greening has MacLean's confidence; the winger saw his PK time improve by more than a minute per game in the playoffs (0:45 SH TOI/G in the regular season to 1:51 SH TOI/G in the playoffs).
What about the new guys on wing? Don't look at Bobby Ryan. He played just over two minutes on the penalty kill in total during the regular season. As for Clarke MacArthur, he just didn't kill penalties during his three seasons with the Leafs. In fact, MacArthur played just over a minute in total on the penalty kill for the Leafs last season (1:10 SH TOI). You have to go back to his time with the Thrashers and the Sabres, when MacArthur averaged between 20 and 50 seconds shorthanded per game, to find him deployed as a penalty killer. If MacArthur develops significant chemistry with Turris, maybe he gets a shot at forming a PK unit with Turris.