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How Will Ken Hitchcock Improve the Stars Penalty Kill?

It can’t get any worse than last season’s 20 year bilestone under Ruff? Right?

Ken Hitchcock
Good times (mostly).

As we all know, Dallas’ penalty killing unit last season was the worst in 20 years. Ken Hitchcock could have the Stars change lines in flintstones cars, and you’d still have trouble envisioning ways they could be any worse.

But Hitchcock won’t have Benn and Faksa line changing in flintstones cars. He’ll be barking orders like Alec Baldwin from Glengarry Glen Ross.

Still, it’s worth asking; can Hitchcock turn an epic disaster of a penalty kill into a formidable shorthanded set of groups?

With St. Louis, under Hitchcock’s command, the Blues were ranked 3rd, 7th, 2nd, and 7th in each full season. Not bad. But he was working with different tools (and lots of elite defensemen).

For the most part, all of Dallas’ tools are returning. Except for Cody Eakin and Jordie Benn, who logged heavy minutes under Ruff.

Antoine Roussel, Jamie Benn, Radek Faksa, Dan Hamhuis, Stephen Johns, and Esa Lindell will return to reprise their roles. It’s not exactly the burly lineup the Blues had, but there are competent players.

There are three unique x-factors. Selke nominee Martin Hanzal, and Marc Methot will be new additions to the PK. But the most interesting is Tyler Seguin. At least according to Hitchcock. Running Seguin on the PK could either be a misguided experiment, on par with CGI Jabba the Hutt.

Or it could be a wonderful “new school” approach, letting talented players threaten from every gamestate instead of leaving big men to block shots. Seguin seemed quite pleased by the suggestion, so if nothing else, Seguin will play the potential role with gusto.

I said three x-factors, but I really mean four. Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi were not blameless last season. They received little help from the players in front of them, but they didn’t exactly help the players in front of them.

Goalies are penalty killers too, sadly for Dallas fans. Combined, they posted a save percentage of .835. And at least one half of the Finnish brigade will be returning. The bad news is that Kari was the goaltender who faced less shots while still underperforming. The good news is that with better penalty killers in front of him, he won’t get any worse.

The other good news is that Ben Bishop has never posted a save percentage that bad shorthanded. Last season his shorthanded save percentage was .909 and his career average - shorthanded - is .895. That’s a massive improvement over Lehtonen’s .808 (!) last season.

As I wrote in last season’s look at the Stars PK, as a unit they weren’t historically bad in terms of raw stats. Their shot attempts against, unblocked shot attempts against, and scoring chances against were merely mediocre. It was their expected goals against that smashed their dignity to bits. Goaltending was likely the strongest element working against Dallas last season.

If there’s room for skepticism it’s that goaltending remains a nominal issue. Bishop will improve the PK, but he’s not gonna play all 82 games. What happens if Kari is injured, Bishop needs to rest, and one of the Texas Stars goalies takes over? What happens if Bishop is injured for a lengthy stretch? Then it’s Kari and a Cedar Park reinforcement. That’s not exactly an inspiring thought.

The silver lining is that the units themselves could improve with or without Bishop. Conversely, the units themselves could struggle but Bishop could mask their inefficiencies. Whatever the case, Dallas may never be as good shorthanded as the Blues teams under Hitchcock, but they certainly won’t be as bad as last season’s Stars team under Ruff. Everybody’s knocking on wood right?


What is your number one penalty kill formation?

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