Sam Bennett should be a fixture on the penalty kill

Mike FAIL
January 04 2017 02:00PM

Since the implementation of Paul Jerrard's more opportunistic, aggressive penalty kill we've started seeing a steady rise from among the league's worst to about middle of the pack, which is a positive trend given how often this Calgary Flames team is penalized. It's not perfect by any stretch of the means, but it's on a good trajectory.

One major opportunity exists: elevating the second penalty kill unit to a higher level. To do that, it should include Sam Bennett as a near permanent fixture in place of Matt Stajan.

Bennett has been primarily deployed alongside Alex Chiasson, someone who you wouldn't presume to be producing acceptable results 4v5 but is. The unlikely duo often sees scraps when it comes to PK deployment and to many, they've been a pretty effect tandem.

While Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik often take the bulk of the defensive zone starts to kick off the kill, Stajan and a variation of Troy Brouwer or Lance Bouma are the typical secondary unit that come out on the fly. And usually, if the first unit (Backlund and Frolik) aren't deployed again after the second unit, Bennett and Chiasson eat up the scraps.

There is a variety of factors that initially led to this deployment scheme, but it's stifling an opportunity to develop the second unit into a much more effective group that can suppress the opposition at a level that matches the first unit.

(All 4v5 data via Corsica.Hockey.)

pkforwards

Some important points to bring up from the shot data presented:

  • Despite the massive shift in Stajan, Brouwer, and Bouma's deployments of starts vs on the fly they struggle in preventing shots. This is peculiar because from what data we have available there is some evidence to suggest OTF deployment typically impacts those results.
  • Bennett and Chiasson are nearly exclusively used in OTF solutions and it's a huge factor in helping limit their overall shot metrics against.
  • However, it's worth noting that they play similarly to the Backlund/Frolik unit and that also contributes to it.
  • With the duo's usage being near the end of the kill - more often than not - the pairing is more likely to see final rushes, zone entries against, and less stress relative to the other units in dealing with the opposition's power play.
  • If they can manage (which they have) with the steady progression they've been given then why not explore it more and more over the next stretch of games?
  • Why play Bouma at this point on the PK? He's averaging 97.95 shots against (missed/blocked/on net) per 60 minutes of PK TOI. 

In recent games we've started seeing more of Bennett and Chiasson which is a good thing because their individual skill sets lend themselves to be ideal candidates for Jerrard's system which typically employs the triangle +1 formation. A big part of why they're seeing an increase in usage has been Brouwer's injury, and penalty woes. In that time they've done pretty well in having limited amounts shots generated against:

bennydeploy

Not mentioned yet is the fact that over this stretch they've yet to be on for a goal against. Obviously it's a seven game sample, but it's another piece of the puzzle that supports exploring Bennett (and Chiasson) being utilized a bit more. This is an opportunity to maximize another skill set and facet of Bennett's game to create additional value. It shouldn't impact his long-term offensive upside or existing skills, but it will allow him to potentially develop another vital element to his game.

In the clip below, even though Chiasson and Bennett failed to capitalize on the 2-on-0, the prowess the two have developed in obstructing zone entries against and moving the puck up the ice is valuable to maximizing the penalty kill. Penalty kills aren't about sitting back and surviving - unless it's 3v5 - anymore. 

Aggressive penalty kills give you the opportunity to eat time off the clock, potentially score goals, and suppress the opposition's power play because 

  • a) they aren't in the zone as often, 
  • b) they are having issues setting up, and
  • c) you have the puck on your stick.

The era of having penalty kill specialists is quickly dying off, faster than ever, and more now than ever before teams are using their skilled players in this capacity. Giving Bennett a chance to play more in this role is a good thing and if the potential experiment ends poorly then you can say you at least tried to find hidden value in an already exciting, young, and talented player.

And hey, Chiasson, for all the flack he gets with his stone hands, isn't a bad compliment to Bennett killing penalties. They work well together and any value you can squeeze out of depth players is an added bonus, too.

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Mike Fail is the Nation Network's Director of Good Content and FlamesNation's Community Manager. When he isn't pining about the penalty kill, he's likely cooking up that good content you all love to consume.