CHICAGO -- The Chicago Blackhawks got the first glimpse their penalty kill was going to be different in 2013 not long after the season began.
Despite opening on the road against the defending Stanley Cup champions on the day the Los Angeles Kings were raising their championship banner, the Blackhawks' penalty-killing unit held the Kings to zero goals on five power-play opportunities.
It would be a sign of things to come.
The Blackhawks next shut out the Phoenix Coyotes on three power-play opportunities. The Blackhawks slipped slightly in their third game against the St. Louis Blues and gave up their first power-play goal. They bounced back by not allowing the Dallas Stars a goal on two chances on Thursday and held the Columbus Blue Jackets without a power-play goal on five chances on Saturday.
Finally, on Sunday, the Blackhawks put together their most impressive penalty-killing performance and contained the Detroit Red Wings six times in a 2-1 overtime win at the United Center.
After six games, the Blackhawks have killed off 22 of 23 power plays for a 95.7 percentage. Coming off last season’s 78.1 percent on the penalty kill, it’s safe to say the penalty kill is definitely different in 2013.
“I think everybody’s doing a good job,” said defenseman Duncan Keith, who scored a goal in Sunday’s win. “There’s a lot of things that go into having a good penalty kill. First and foremost, I think we got everybody contributing. I think [Michael] Frolik and [Marcus] Kruger have done a real good job of stepping up and being a part of the penalty kill. [Corey] Crawford’s been good in net when he’s had to make those saves.”
A lot went especially right in the second period on Sunday. The Blackhawks committed four penalties and faced the Red Wings’ power play four times in the second period. The Red Wings even had a five-on-three advantage for 43 seconds in one instance. But on each occasion, the Blackhawks denied Detroit by either Crawford making a save, keeping the Red Wings from entering their zone or stealing or clearing the puck.
The Blackhawks were so good on the penalty kill they had four short-handed shots on goal compared to the Red Wings’ five power-play shots on the night.
“It was a great second period of kills,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “Whether it was the forward or the D or blocking the shots or the key saves by Crawford, it was a group effort. Even that five-on-three was special.
“I thought their reads and their willingness to get in front of shots and awareness of what they’re capable of doing. They’re a dangerous power play. We dodged a bullet there. To me, that was the key to the game.”
It also has been a key to the season. The Blackhawks are off to a 6-0-0 start largely because of their penalty kill. Whereas it was an unreliable aspect of last season's team, it now has become something the Blackhawks can rely on a nightly basis.
“When the penalty kill is going good, a lot of things are going right,” Keith said. “Everybody is contributing. I think it’s important to stay on it and not slack off and get complacent and just keep trying to get better.”