The ability to kill off penalties is so crucial in the NHL. So many games are won and lost because one team will outshine the other on special teams. It takes skill, chemistry and a bit of luck. You need players who are willing to do whatever for the better of the team. Players who are specialists at a certain craft. Players who make a positive difference while on the ice. All of those characteristics describe Michael Frolik, a player the Chicago Blackhawks traded away in the offseason. Frolik led the charge for the Blackhawks' penalty killing unit. Ranking third in the league last season, the Blackhawks' PK unit killed off penalties 87.23% of the time. The same can't be said this season.
The Blackhawks currently rank last in the NHL when on the penalty kill. Killing off penalties at a miserable 42.86%, has already been a huge problem. In only two games, they have been short handed seven times, giving up four goals. Sure it's early in the season and we shouldn't look too much into things, but this problem doesn't look like it's going away anytime soon. The spacing looks off, there seems to be a lack of chemistry and something is missing…or make that someone is missing- Michael Frolik.
Frolik played such an underrated role with the Blackhawks last season. He was the catalyst on their penalty killing unit and his efforts on the Blackhawks' fourth line put pressure on opposing teams. Frolik was traded to the Winnipeg Jets on draft night for two draft picks. His cap number for 2013-2014 is roughly at $2 million – a number the Blackhawks didn't feel comfortable paying since they were trying to create space. Did the Blackhawks want to get rid of Frolik? Probably not. Did they have to based on their financial situation and the direction of the team? Yes. Unfortunately the NHL is a business and along the way you come across obstacles that can pull you back. That's exactly what happened to the Blackhawks. What was once a strength has now turned into a big concern and a major weakness.
The team has turned to forward Joakim Nordstrom among others to fill in for Frolik. Not a knock on the players filling in, but it's a hard role to replace. The Blackhawks currently sit with a 1-0-1 record, but their main liability has been their ability to stay out of the box and kill off penalties. Heading forward into the rest of the season, the team will need to become more disciplined while developing a strong chemistry with one another on all phases. They are arguably one of the best five on five teams, but special teams is a glaring weakness. They need to fix this problem before things start getting out of hand.
So what do you think? Can the Blackhawks turn it around before it gets too late? Or do you think their penalty killing unit will be a problem all season?
Let's hope the early concerns can be attributed to unfamiliarity and playing against two high powered offenses in Washington and Tampa Bay. The Blackhawks have the talent and personnel to repeat as champs, but they will need to get it done on special teams if they want to have any chance of hoisting the Stanley Cup for a second straight year.
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