An oft-overlooked part of a team’s success, a solid penalty kill can sometimes fly under the radar.
The 2016-17 Windsor Spitfires set an OHL record this season, recording the best penalty kill since the league began tracking special teams totals at the outset of the 1997-98 season.
The Spitfires killed 224 of their 253 disadvantages this season, surrendering just 29 power play goals to finish with an 88.5% efficiency rate on the penalty kill, just a shade better than Peter DeBoer’s 2005-06 Kitchener Rangers who came in at 88.3%.
“Several names have been regular contributors to our penalty kill this season,” said Spits head coach Rocky Thompson. “Some of the more prominent guys include Luke Boka, Adam Laishram, Aaron Luchuk, Jalen Chatfield, Sean Day and Mikhail Sergachev.
“Austin McEneny also did great work filling some of Logan Stanley’s minutes while he was injured, and now that he’s back Logan is a huge part of things.”
Windsor’s penalty killing corps is largely overseen by associate coach Trevor Letowski, a former big-time scorer in the Ontario Hockey League with the Sarnia Sting from 1994-97.
“I give Trevor a lot of credit for the work he has done there,” Thompson added.
“It also goes without saying that the most important guy on your PK unit is your goaltender, and both of ours have been excellent for us this season.”
Vancouver Canucks prospect Jalen Chatfield, who finished tied for second with Erie’s Kyle Pettit as the Western Conference’s best penalty killer in the 2016-17 OHL Coaches Poll, agrees with the praise toward the goaltenders, particularly Michael DiPietro who has carried the load in the crease.
“We take a lot of pride in sacrificing, blocking shots and making sure we make good clears, but when things break down Mikey is always there for us,” he said. “I’ve never played for a goaltender who competes as hard as him.
“Not only does he stop the easy ones, but he makes the saves that really surprise you.”
Windsor’s penalty kill was red hot in the month of January, going 11 straight games from January 12th to February 3rd without surrendering a goal against, a string of 41 consecutive successful kills.
“I think there are differences in how teams approach their penalty kill,” Thompson explained. “We make a lot of adjustments and do different things based upon the type of power play we’ll face on a given night. We pre-scout a lot, take note of opposing breakouts and in-zone structures and design our plan accordingly.”
Other outstanding penalty killing units over the course of the past 20 years have included the 2007-08 Brampton Battalion (88%) and OHL champions in the 2006-07 Plymouth Whalers (87.9%) and 2002-03 Kitchener Rangers (87.9%).
The Spitfires’ penalty kill crew returns to high alert tonight when they try and deal with the OHL’s second-ranked power play from the champion Erie Otters who posted a 27.2% efficiency rate over the course of the regular season.
Catch tonight’s action on Sportsnet, TVA Sports, NHL Network and CHL Live at 7:00pm ET/4:00pm PT.