Canes become better killers of penalties

calexander@newsobserver.comOctober 1, 2013 

There’s nothing particularly pretty about killing off penalties in hockey games.

“The penalty killer has to have the mentality that you’re going to grind it, that you’re going to block shots and your feet are going to hurt when you’re done and you’re going to be sore,” Carolina Hurricanes forward Patrick Dwyer said.

Pretty glamorous work, eh?

But the Canes were determined to improve that area of their game in preseason training camp, and they did. In their six preseason games, they killed 26 of 28 penalties, allowing only power-play goals to Columbus in the first exhibition game and Montreal in the third.

Against Buffalo on Friday, the Canes killed off all four penalties in a 1-0 victory over the Sabres. The only goal came on a shorthanded score by Dwyer, off assists from Jordan Staal and Ron Hainsey.

The Hurricanes finished 28th in the NHL in penalty-killing last season, albeit shortened to 48 games, at 77.6 percent. Only Florida was worse in the Eastern Conference.

The Canes responded by adding players to help bolster the penalty kill. They traded for defenseman Andrej Sekera. They signed free agents Hainsey and Mike Komisarek. They invited forward Radek Dvorak to camp on a professional tryout.

“If you look at what we wanted to do during the course of training camp and the exhibition games with our penalty kill, I think we accomplished that,” Dwyer said. “It’s a different beast in the regular season, when you see different setups, but it’s like winning those last three (preseason) games going into the regular season. It’s good for confidence; it’s a step forward and something we can build off of.”

Canes coach Kirk Muller looked at different combinations of penalty killers during preseason. Against the Sabres, one unit had Dwyer and forward Jordan Staal, along with defensemen Justin Faulk and Sekera. Hainsey and Komisarek each logged more than four minutes of shorthanded time, and Hainsey had a team high four minutes and 45 seconds.

“I think they’re taking pride in it,” Muller said. “They look like they’re in synch. We’re doing a good job of being more aggressive at the right times. They’re getting in the shooting lanes.

“And the best penalty killer is always your goalie. Our goalies have been making the saves.”

Cam Ward was in net Friday for the shutout over the Sabres, following up a strong showing Thursday in a 2-1 road win over Columbus. Anton Khudobin had 41 saves last week in beating the Montreal Canadiens in the Bell Centre – the first of the three straight victories to end the preseason.

Dwyer said a successful penalty kill often comes from the right blend of aggressiveness, good positioning, and, as Jordan Staal said, “Everyone being on the same page, knowing a good time to pressure and when not to.”

Dwyer and Staal have built chemistry being on the same forward line, and that’s advantageous on the penalty kill. Dwyer’s shorthanded score came after some active work in the defensive zone. Staal cleared the puck to Dwyer, who raced up the left wing and ripped a shot past Sabres goalie Ryan Miller.

“If you can know where a guy is and there’s just the slightest bobble and you can knock it to an open area, and he can clear the zone, it can make a world of difference,” Dwyer said. “It wasn’t a direct pass. But he knew where I was going and I knew where he was going with it.

“A good kill can change the whole momentum of a game.”

Muller likes his mix of killers. Now, as Dwyer noted, it’s a matter of getting it done in the regular season.

“Special teams can be the difference in points at the end of the season when you look back and say, ‘If we had just won this game or that game,’” Dwyer said.

Note: In expected personnel moves, the Canes on Tuesday placed injured forward Joni Pitkanen on long term injured reserve and recalled defenseman Ryan Murphy from the Charlotte Checkers (AHL). Murphy was assigned to Charlotte on Monday.

The Canes also placed defenseman Matt Corrente on waivers for the purpose of assigning him to the Checkers.

Alexander: 919-829-8945; Twitter: @ice_chip

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