Chicago, IL — The game of hockey is usually looked at by fans for all the goals and pretty assists that are achieved in a game but maybe more importantly it’s the goals that are not scored that determine a team’s success in a hockey game.
A team is never more vulnerable to that then when they are shorthanded and are on their penalty kill. It takes a special player with specialized skills to effectively compete and succeed when being a man down. It is not called special teams for nothing.
The Chicago Blackhawks have the good fortune to have several players on their teams that have these specialized skills. We all know Jonathan Toews & Marian Hossa are superstars that can do just about anything in any situation but this year two maybe not so household names have stepped up for this team and have helped the Blackhawks have one of the best penalty kills in the regular season.
Who are these specialists? Michael Frolik and Marcus Kruger all year-long contributed to this team’s success. Part of winning the Jennings trophy which goes to the fewest goals allowed can also be attributed to their tireless work on the penalty kill. This track has continued so far into the playoffs as well.
The Blackhawks ended the season with the 3rd best overall penalty kill in the league and through two playoff games they are tied for first on the PK. The have been perfect so far 0-6.
They also lead the league in +/- differential and that too has carried into the playoffs. What does this mean? Well the Chicago Blackhawks understand that it is defense and defensive responsibilities that are key to winning games, many, many games in fact. The most difficult situation to maintain good defense however is the penalty kill for obvious reasons.
To be proficient on a penalty kill only your best, most responsible defensive players should be utilized. You have to flat-out out work your opponents and hustle being short a player. How this is achieved is through many specialized skills like very active sticks, blocking shots and proper positioning to clog or block passing lanes in your zone. Forechecking plays a huge role once the puck is dumped out of your end so only the best forecheckers should be used.
All year-long even not on the penalty kill both Michael Frolik and Marcus Kruger have showcased their defensive responsibilities. Rarely do ever see them turnover pucks and if they do they immediately get on the forecheck/backcheck to get the puck back.
Can you think of two players on the Hawks that consistently hustle to the corners or boards and more often than not come away with the puck? I can’t. While this tireless work doesn’t show on the stat sheets all the time it is one of the reasons the Blackhawks have had so much success this year.
Neither Frolik or Kruger are very big physically but apparently they have humongous hearts and will. Michael Frolik was a #1 draft pick of the Florida Panthers in 2006 draft where he went tenth overall. The Blackhawks got him in the Jack Skille, Alexander Salak trade. So Frolik has skills both offensively and defensively but on a team like the Blackhawks that has so much offensive fire power it has been the defensive side to Frolik’s game that has taken center stage and rightfully so. Frolik’s skills were apparent in the last Blackhawks playoff game against the Wild where shorthanded he scored a goal that came from pure determination.
Marcus Kruger was drafted by the Blackhawks in 2009 in the 5th round and has impressed the coaching staff with his play in the defensive zone. A natural center, Kruger has played on the 2nd line through the 4th line and has looked comfortable no matter what line he is on. From the moment Marcus Kruger came to the Blackhawks he has impressed with his work ethics. Even though he is not big he takes big hits and bounces back like they were nothing and even ends up with the puck sometimes.
Michael Frolik and Marcus Kruger are special talents with special skills to be sure. Special forces are units of highly trained personnel to perform unconventional or most times high risk missions when the odds are against them using skill sets most mortals do not possess. Think Liam Neeson in Taken – “I don’t know who you are. I don’t know what you want. If you are looking for ransom, I can tell you I don’t have money. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills; skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you “. 1
Now Michael Frolik and Marcus Kruger will not kill you literally like Liam Nieeson’s character in Taken but they can most certainly kill an opposing team’s momentum and will with their skills, which does make them a nightmare for the opposing teams they are facing. I think that qualifies them on a hockey risk as being lethal.
1 2008 film Taken 20th Century Fox. Screenplay by Luc Besson & Robert Mark Kamen, Directed by Pierre Morel.