The addition of Jay McClement and the penalty kill

Cam Charron
September 26 2012 11:30AM

I wanted to look a little bit at how Toronto's penalty killing can improve with the arrival of Jay McClement, so I took to watching a pair of games to see how the Maple Leafs reacted against one of the better powerplay teams in the league, Pittsburgh, versus a team that had some shorthanded success against them in, coincidentally, the Colorado Avalanche.

The Avalanche, McClement's former employers, had twice the success against the Pittsburgh powerplay as Toronto did, despite playing just as much shorthanded time against them as the Leafs in just two games versus four.

Here are the stats comparing the two:

  Shots Against/60 Minutes Goals Against/60 Minutes
Colorado v PIT 44.5 3.4
Toronto v PIT 58.3 6.9

Worth noting, this is more than 4-on-5 time. This includes 3-on-5, since the NHL doesn't differentiate between ice times at each individual PK stage. I could figure that out manually, but I think there's more to be said from breaking down actual film than looking at statistics alone, and start to work on what works, and what doesn't.

What needs to be known is that both teams played roughly 17-and-a-half minutes against Pittsburgh's vaunted powerplay. The Leafs allowed 17 shots and 2 goals, the Penguins allowed 13 shots and 1 goal.

One thing I like about Pittsburgh is that they have several players who are good with entries. Kristopher Letang, Evgeni Malkin and James Neal were all prominent in carrying the puck through the neutral zone. In the two games I watched, this play stood out, they'd bring a puck carrier to the far right side of the ice slowly with a guy behind him in support.

Malkin carried this in against the Leafs with Steve Sullivan in support, while Neal carried in against the Avalanche with Malkin in support. Note the difference in defensive formation:

The Leafs have two guys to the side, John-Michael Liles and Mike Komisarek, as their two forwards are changing. Jay McClement is covering the rest of the Penguins on Colorado's end, as they have their three guys covering Malkin.

What happens next in the Toronto game:

 

You can see Malkin at the top of the screen. The Penguins have brought two guys in low, Liles has gone to cover them, and Malkin uses the extra space along the line to walk it, dropping to his trailer James Neal. The extra space created along the top half of the ice is used, and Pittsburgh gets a good chance.

What's fun about this entry is that if it isn't defended correctly at first, it creates two opportunities for a chance. If Liles is further up top, Neal has Chris Kunitz wide open on his right side for a tap-in. Part of the reason the Leafs only had two guys there was that one forward (Tyler Bozak) had gone in too far on the Leafs' rush and didn't change in time to allow proper support.

That's where having two defensive centremen can help out a team. This is how Colorado was able to attack a similar entry. With the third man cutting space across the top, Malkin takes the puck to the open area: That's along the wall, far away from the net in a non-dangerous spot on the ice:

McClement is left covering the trailer and Shane O'Brien cuts off Malkin's path to the net. Instead of chipping it out to the near point or firing it around the end boards to the far point in the interest of setting up possession, he tries to get a pass in front. McClement ties up the guy's stick, and the puck comes free to O'Brien, who knocks it down the ice.

There was another takeaway from these games, involving McClement's forechecking pressure right off the draw on the PK, that I'll point out tomorrow. He is very quick and should help the Leafs' PK out immensely. Perhaps not by making them elite, but he should bring them to respectability.

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Cam Charron is a BC hockey fan that writes about hockey on many different websites including this one.
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