McKenna: Analyzing the Ingredients Needed to Effectively Eliminate Penalties

Is there an art of scoring shorthanded goals? May be. Reilly Smith and Roope Hintz would certainly know. They currently lead the NHL in shorthanded goals with two apiece.

Let’s take a closer look at why every player enjoys offensive success when their team is a downed man.

Skating routes are so important in eliminating penalties and Smith’s first shorthanded goal of the year is a perfect example.

As the game moves across the boards, Smith quickly recovers in the slots area. It’s important to regain that ice whatever the situation, but when eliminating penalties, you have to pack the middle. It’s non-negotiable. Keeping the knocks out and preventing sewing passes are essential.

What happens next is a truly one-on-one Smith game. Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon moves the puck from the half-wall to teammate JT Compher, whose feet face the Golden Knights goal. He is unable to attack the net, which indicates to Smith that he can be aggressive.

Smith already has an advantage over Compher; his return to center prevents Avalanche forward Mikko Rantanen from going through the ice. When Compher begins to drift towards the blue line, it’s a chance for Smith to come back up the ice. He knows Compher’s only real option is to transfer the puck to Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar.

Smith is in charge of traffic. He forces Compher to move on to Makar, who is in a vulnerable position as the last line of defense against avalanches. There is no one behind him. And Makar doesn’t have a lot of options when the puck comes to him.

Part of being an effective penalty killer is knowing when to take calculated risks, and that’s one of Smith’s strengths. He has a great sense of hockey and decides to attack, forcing Makar to return the puck.

Even though Smith is at the end of his shift, he still has the presence of mind to protect the puck as he drives the net. He knows that Compher is coming behind him. Smith continues to grind and finds a way to score. It’s smart and determined hockey.

No matter how structured a team’s penalty kill is, things inevitably go awry. All it takes is a broken part or a missed assignment. But today, penalties are as much about speed and pressure on the pucks as it is about blocking shots and playing hard in front of the net.

At the start of the clip, Smith aggressively chases Columbus Blue Jackets forward Jakub Voracek along the half-wall. He misses the puck and Voracek quickly spins the ice and passes to his teammate Zach Werenski at the blue line.

Golden Knights forward Nic Roy takes a smart lane up the hill, preventing Columbus from going to l-to-r and forcing Werenski back to Voracek, who sees a wide-open passing lane through the high lunge.

NHL teams want to prevent this type of gaze as much as possible. This is a good example of how a player slightly out of position can open up passing lanes that weren’t there moments before.

But look at Smith. Once he loses control over Voracek, his feet start to move. He recovers as quickly as possible and fills the lane Roy previously occupied.

Once again, Smith’s hockey acumen and work ethic put him in the right position to cause turnover. He picked up the pass and attacked Blue Jackets goalie Elvis Merzlikins on his own, scoring just above the blocker’s side to tie the game at 2-2.

Sometimes scoring shorthanded is as easy as taking advantage of the situation. On that goal, the St. Louis Blues are at the end of a power play. They are tired. And the Dallas Stars leap.

St. Louis returns the puck and Stars defenseman Esa Lindell plays against the wall. He has teammate Michael Raffl on the move – with a step on Blues forward Pavel Buchnevich.

As soon as Buchnevich stumbles, it’s the green light for Raffl and possible goalscorer Roope Hintz to take off. It’s a clean 2-to-1 break for the Stars. As he walks towards the net, Raffl quickly opens the blade of his stick to simulate a shot, which freezes rookie defenseman Scott Perunovich.

This rapid disappointment opens a clean way to overtake. Hintz pulls the puck from his outside wing once – a difficult game and the key to the goal. Blues goaltender Jordan Binnington is unable to exceed time – or seal the ice – due to the Finnish forward’s quick release.

Allowing a shorthanded goal is a punch. A power play should translate into a goal – or at a minimum – a change in momentum. Teams take advantage of the scoring opportunities created during a power play.

A shorthanded goal in a game is bad enough. But two? It’s not winning hockey. And it happened to the Blues twice in this match. And this time, it’s caused by a bad pinch from Blues defenseman Torey Krug.

Once again, it’s Roope Hintz who scores for the Stars on a Michael Raffl thread.

What I find remarkable is the way the stars move in the neutral zone. There is a point where it looks like Hintz is ready to pick up the puck, but instead chooses to cut the ice down the middle and let Raffl take it.

It’s a smart game that flaunts the attack of the Stars. Had Hintz and Raffl gone for the puck, it would have given Blues forward David Perron a chance to attack and eliminate any opportunity. But by driving to the middle of the ice, Hintz gives Raffl space to operate.

Although not a defenseman by trade, Perron does a good job forcing Raffl to make a play. He slips and clears the passing lane along the ice. But Raffl sees it early and sends a perfect saucer pass six inches above the ice to Hintz, who heads for the far post.

This time, Hintz doesn’t let go of the puck immediately. He catches the pass, then a fraction of a second later covers it on the short end on Binnington. That short delay – and the stick blade closed – gave the Blues goaltender reason to believe Hintz could take the puck up front and try to score on his backhand.

I think there’s a good chance Hintz had the same idea. But when he catches Raffl’s pass, his head is up. He sees the space open on the small side and the Ace of Spades decides to take advantage of it.

Details, structure, sense of the game – everything counts as shorthanded. But ultimately, it’s about competing with the level. These two players are ready to play hard and fast hockey in the defensive zone. They will block shots when necessary and launch into the game when warranted.

Reilly Smith has nine career shorthanded goals. Roope Hintz has four. It’s not surprising when you look at their intangibles. Smith is such a smart hockey player that he takes his own chances. Hintz can fly. And both can end. I would expect them to continue to do so.

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