An Advanced Look: Evaluating the Blackhawks’ Penalty Kill

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We’re told that Chicago has one of the best Penalty Kills in the league. We can see that based on their success rate. But just what exactly makes that success rate possible?

Stats courtesy of war-on-ice | Current as of 26 Jan 2015

If you’re not familiar with some of these abbreviations, the entirety is listed at the bottom under “Resources” with brief explanations for your convenience. All charts can be clicked on to enlarge. 

Although most have an inclination to measure the success of something by their Goals For numbers, Penalty Kills are those rare circumstances in which suppression takes precedence over generation. Why’s this? In a similar way to a team who slows their shots when they are in a lead to remove the chance of turnover and consequent breakaways (a lot of teams will run clocks down passing when they have the puck as a method of suppression), Penalty Kills don’t tend to produce offensively, and they’re not really meant to. After all, they are technically a punishment, even though they sometimes seem more fun than other periods of play.

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While Goals against gives us an indication of just how many penalty kills have failed (as they end when a goal has been scored or when the clock runs out, whichever comes first), it’s important to take the success/failure rate into consideration rather than just the flat number without context (With 129 PK opportunities, Chicago has an 88.4% success rate overall, which is the top in the league).

But is this success rate sustainable? To answer this, why not look at how their numbers match up against the rest of the league:

Chart courtesy war-on-ice | Current as of 26 Jan 2015

What this chart tells us is that although they do not have the lowest Corsi event rates against (x-axis), they do have the lowest goals against rate at 15 GA. Keeping the opportunities under the middle mark, however, increases the chance that the goals against rate is more sustainable over time.

The Pittsburgh Penguins are actually the only team with a higher save-percentage than Chicago (93.1% to CHI’s 92.5%). However, because they have a much higher event rate during their Penalty Kill (6,990 total Corsi events to CHI’s 6,636) and have less Corsi-For events during that time (678 CF to CHI’s 710 with about 280 Shots on Goal Against for PIT and about 200 shots on goal against for CHI), Chicago is able to have a more sustainable Penalty Kill success rate. In fact, there is a real possibility that PIT’s low Goals Against rate will be unsustainable for the rest of the season due to their high events against rate, assuming nothing changes.

So what makes this low Goals Against number possible for Chicago?


We’ll start with goaltending, since it really is the last line of defense before a shot turns into a goal. I broke Corey Crawford‘s shots down by three areas on the ice: The High-Danger Area, the Medium-Danger area and the Low-Danger Area.

Chart courtesy war-on-ice | 13.89% Success Rate for Shooter against Crawford, 86.11 Sv%

Chart courtesy war-on-ice | 12.0% Success Rate for Shooter against Crawford, 88.0 Sv%

Chart courtesy war-on-ice | 4.08% Success Rate for Shooter against Crawford, 95.92 Sv%

For context, Crawford is ranked 5th for save percentage in Low danger areas on the penalty kill among goalies with at least 120 minutes on ice for the 2014-15 season (League avg is 93.4%, Crawford’s is 95.92%), 11th for Medium danger areas (League avg 85.2%, Crawford’s is 88.0%) and 7th for High danger areas (League avg is 80.3%, Crawford’s is 86.11%). Crawford ranking above average in each of the three areas certainly helps their penalty kill success rate.

However, when you look at the save rate for each of the areas, you can see that he faces the most shots from (from most to least) the Low-Danger Zones, the High Danger Zones, and the Medium Danger Zones. What this suggests is that his 95.92 Sv% for the Low-Danger Zones carries the most weight as a determiner for the success of the Penalty Kill. But why does he face the most shots from low-success yield areas?