Who deserves the credit for the Pens PK?

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

The Pittsburgh Penguins currently have the best penalty kill in the NHL. Which players deserve the most credit for this?

The Pittsburgh Penguins have a good power play, which is as you’d expect for a unit that can trot out the talent that the likes of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, Kris Letang and Chris Kunitz have.

More surprisingly, the Penguins have the top ranked penalty kill in the league right now, at 87.6%. At home, they’ve been unbeatable lately, killing 25 straight visitor’s power plays dating back to December 19th. For a PK unit that had was #3 in 2011-12, but has lost three of their top six PK’ers since then (Zbynek Michalek, Jordan Staal and Matt Cooke), it makes the current position at the top of the rankings even more impressive.

PK’ing is a team effort from top on down, but who deserves the credit for the Pens having the top PK group in the circuit?

So who’s to credit for this?

Total Ice Time

Three Penguins stand-out as really pulling the boat for total ice-time. Craig Adams (158:03), Brooks Orpik (128:24) and Brandon Sutter (120:17) by and away have more total short-handed ice time than any of their teammates, largely because all have been able to play in most all of the games. Paul Martin (77:16) and Pascal Dupuis (76:57) would be up there too, except for missing major portions of the season due to injuries.

Per game, those are the Pens top players, with Rob Scuderi (2:19 per game) and Kris Letang (2:00) also in the mix for steady contributions on the PK. Tanner Glass (1:28 per game) has also been a regular PK player and some injury fill-ins like Zach Sill (1:54 PK per game) and Robert Bortuzzo (1:29) also deserve a mention.

Goals Against

The Pens have the top PK unit in the NHL so far this season, mainly because they've given up a NHL low 17 goals against while playing 4 on 5 this season. They’ve also only surrendered two goals against while down to 3 men versus 5, and have given up 1 goal while playing 3 vs. 4. 53 games into the season, those are impressive raw metrics to only cede 21 goals while being short-handed.

In terms of specific players: Bortuzzo (1.48) and Deryk Engelland (1.68) have the best Goals Against On/60 on the team right now. Sidney Crosby, who mainly just takes faceoffs and leaves the ice (0:33 per game this season SH) is next best with a 2.13 GA/ON 60.

Brandon Sutter, impressively is right behind him with a 2.67, the best of the regular PK’ers. Orpik is behind him at 2.94. Adams checks in a 3.65, Martin at 3.89 and Dupuis was at 4.08.

Goaltending


The goaltender is said to be the most important penalty killer, as the old axiom goes, and the Pittsburgh Penguins have gotten superb goaltending so far this year while on the PK.

Marc-Andre Fleury has a sterling .926 save percentage while down a man, and on the season has only given up 14 total PK goals against in 43 games. Rookie Jeff Zatkoff (.898 sv%, 6 goals against in 11) isn’t quite as good, but still has very respectable stats.

Fleury’s current SH save % of .926 is tops in the NHL for regular starting goalies, with the next best starter being Ryan Miller (BUF) way back at .913%. The next starter after Miller is Roberto Luongo with .904%.

This could potentially be the biggest question for continued success- can Fleury keep his save percentage so high, or will it regress back towards everyone else? MAF has been strong in this metric before, posting SH sv% of .853%, .906%, .889% and .891% in the past four seasons, which would consistently make him above league average in this regard. Still, a .926% mark is several points higher than anywhere in the past, and it wouldn’t take but a few goals against to skew that stat back down towards more of his normal career numbers.

Overall

While a solid penalty kill is certainly a group effort of team sacrifice with several shifts of guys working hard and ideally getting the puck cleared after taking away possession by using sticks and bodies in shooting and passing zones, certain players definitely stood out. This study put Brandon Sutter, Brooks Orpik and Marc-Andre Fleury in the best lights.

Sutter has only seen the puck go in his net 5 times while playing 4v5, despite a heavy work-load that often includes starting each PK in his defensive zone against the other team's top players. Orpik isn’t much worse with 6 goals against at 4v5. Fleury has a remarkable stat-sheet while the Pens are down a man. The Pittsburgh Penguins have survived several key PK’ers down for large chunks of the season mainly thanks to the efforts of those three players, with huge assists going to the fill-in players who also did what it took to largely keep the puck out of the net after the Pens had committed a penalty.

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