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Red Wings PK: Will Something Borrowed Lead to Something New?

Red Wings are stealing the aggressive penalty kill of the San Jose Sharks

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Bob Boughner, Detroit Red Wings assistant coach
Red Wings assistant coach Bob Boughenr had the #2 PK in the NHL with San Jose last season.

Something borrowed and something blue – well, teal actually – could prove to be the key to unlocking a solution to the penalty kill woes of the Detroit Red Wings.

There were a number of reasons why the Red Wings set out in pursuit of Bob Boughner to add to head coach Derek Lalonde’s staff. Firstly, he was an NHL head coach, something Lalonde wasn’t until this season. Secondly, he played in the league. Again, something Lalonde didn’t do.

Perhaps most importantly of all, the view of Boughner in NHL circles is that he’s a penalty kill guru. Last season, his San Jose Sharks were #2 in the NHL in PK (85.2%). The Sharks were also second over on the penalty kill in 1017-18, and led the league in 2019-20.

Boughner’s passion for the PK was not unfamilar to Lalonde. He already engineered a steal of the San Jose penalty kill once before.

“It’s a copycat league,” Lalonde explained. “When I came into Tampa (in 2018-19), we were 28th in the league. Coop (Lightning coach Jon Cooper) asked me to improve our penalty kill and I studied San Jose a ton.

“We went from 28 to 1 that year and it’s a credit to Boogs in San Jose and Pete DeBoer and what they were doing there.”

Red Wings More Aggressive On Penalty Kill

In training camp and into the NHL preseason, Detroit is implementing the San Jose style of penalty killing under Boughner’s watchful and experienced eye.

“There’s some different nuances to it that are probably a little more detailed than what I had even thought it was gonna look like,” Lalonde said. “You can start to see some vision of it to have some success.”

Through four preseason games, Detroit has succesfully killed off 17 of 18 shorthanded situations (94.4%). That’s a far cry from the NHL-worst 75.6% penalty kill the Red Wings sent over the boards last season.

Upping the tempo, getting after the puck and pressuring the opposition power play, forcing them into mistakes, are all trademarks of the Boughher-style PK.

“It’s just aggressive, it’s fast,” Lalonde explained. “Guys are still understanding it. Basically our goal with it if it does compete or if we have mistakes going forward, teams are gonna have to beat us with quick, good plays.

“We’re not gonna sit back.”

Thinking Outside The PK Box

In order to play this more intensely aggressive approach to the penalty kill, the Red Wings are also assessing the type of player they’ll need to make this kind of tempo a reality. Some of the faces you’ll be seeing out there when Detroit is playing shorthanded might not be the fellows who would traditionally be deployed in a shorthanded scenario.

Against Chicago in Saturday’s 3-0 win, captain Dylan Larkin, Dominik Kubalik, Lucas Raymond and Joe Veleno were all significant participants in the Red Wings PK units. Filip Zadina is also getting his shot at working while shorthanded during preseason play. Kubalik scored a shorthanded goal in the preseason opener at Pittsburgh.

Last season, Larkin ranked seventh among Detroit forwards in shorthanded ice time (0:30 per game). Veleno (0:21) was ninth. Raymond (0:01) and Zadina (0:00) barely registered in this category.

“There’s gonna be some guys we’re taking looks at that aren’t traditional penalty kill guys,” Lalonde said. “Zadina, Kubalik are prefect examples. Within that scenario we think they can skate, we think they can anticipate.

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“I think Zadina’s skill set could fit what Bob is trying to do and what we’re trying to do on the penalty kill. He ‘s quick, he anticipates. I would put him, Raymond in that that category, too.

“We like skilled players that want to kill. One, it’s more minutes. You get more opportunity, more flow in the game. And you’d like to think some of those guys have those instincts. Especially with an aggressive penalty kill, something we’re trying to accomplish on our penalty kill, we think some of those guys can help us there.”

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