NEWARK, N.J. — The goal for the Blackhawks’ penalty kill this season was simply to become passable again.
That goal has been met and vastly exceeded.
One season after ranking last in the NHL and making history as the worst penalty-kill team in 30 years, the Hawks have risen to 17th entering Friday. Their kill rate has increased from 72.7 percent to 80.4.
That ranking looks mediocre at first glance, and it indeed is — but from where the Hawks were coming from, it’s something truly remarkable.
“We got some experience, a little bit more attention to detail, a little bit more focus given the fact that we had a rough season last year,” Jonathan Toews said Thursday, after the Hawks stopped all four of the Bruins’ power plays and scored a short-handed goal in the upset win.
“It just felt like it didn’t matter what we tried to do to turn things around, it just kept snowballing in the wrong direction for us. So this year it’s given us some confidence, keeping us in games when we end up going to the box as much as we do kind of like today. It’s nice to have a special teams do a job for us.”
Excluding a poor start, the Hawks’ short-handed units this season have been better than mediocre. Since Oct. 21, the team has killed 62 of 74 power plays, an 83.8 percent rate that ranks 12th in the league.
This penalty-kill success puts the Hawks on track to continue a strange leaguewide trend. From 2014-15 to 2017-18, the four teams at the bottom in PK rate improved to 17th or better the next year.
The Hawks, with offseason additions Calvin de Haan and Ryan Carpenter leading the team in PK ice time and spearheading its charge up the rankings, could make that five straight.
“[The PK has] been good for pretty much all year, pressuring at the appropriate time, making it difficult to enter clean against us, and we get some saves, which is big,” coach Jeremy Colliton said Thursday. “I think the guys feel pretty confident.”
Keith, Shaw to IR
Duncan Keith (groin) and Andrew Shaw (concussion) were retroactively put on injured reserve Friday.
Despite the gloomy implications of the news, it actually changed nothing. The retroactive aspect makes Keith already eligible to be activated at any time, and Shaw also will be eligible before Sunday’s game against the Coyotes.
And since it’s not long-term injured reserve, the transactions provide no additional cap space. They only free up roster spots, which the Hawks did not immediately fill with AHL call-ups because of their ongoing cap squeeze.
No Hayden rematch
Former Blackhawks grinder John Hayden — traded during the draft in June — was not in the lineup for the Devils, avoiding a potential “revenge game.”
Hayden, who has just one point in 11 appearances, is far from the only player recently traded from the Hawks struggling with his new team.
Brendan Perlini has one point in 16 games for the Red Wings; Carl Dahlstrom has zero points in 12 games for the Jets; Artem Anisimov has three points in 11 games for the Senators. Dominik Kahun, who has caught fire with the Penguins lately and now boasts 16 points in 28 games, is the one exception.