Gulls Penalty Kill A Real Power Play
San Diego is tied for the league lead with seven shorthanded goals, all scored in NovemberNov 22, 2019
By AJ Manderichio/SanDiegoGulls.com
There’s little glory in the penalty kill.
The four-man unit tasked with stopping the opposition’s power play faces an uphill battle. Hard battles in the corners for possession of a loose puck, quality chances on net and potential momentum swings all stack up to present two minutes of yeoman’s work.
It’s in these moments the San Diego Gulls not only thrive – they seize the opportunity to flip the script.
A major factor in San Diego’s November turnaround is the driving force of the team’s penalty kill. As the wins pile up – now seven in eight games – the shorthanded play continues to improve. The Gulls PK is 27-for-31 this month – eliminating over 87% of the opposition’s power play chances.
“We’ve had a number of kills throughout this little stretch where the other team could have cut our lead or tied it up,” goaltender Anthony Stolarz said. “We’ve stopped them and haven’t given them the opportunity to gain some momentum in the game going forward. We take a lot of pride in the PK; we want to be among the best in the league.”
One of the most impressive facets of the improved penalty kill – the team’s lethal ability to score shorthanded goals.
It’s the ultimate dagger to the opposition, and the Gulls seem to fill the net in these situations with regularity. Through eight November games, San Diego outscored its opponents 7-4 while down a man, improving its shorthanded goal differential to an impressive minus-2. The Gulls are tied for the league lead in shorthanded goals, sharing the top spot with Cleveland.
Alex Broadhurst, Sam Carrick and Justin Kloos all have two shorthanded goals. Each sits just one away from tying the club’s single-season record.
The focus isn’t on the offense, but the Gulls admit the shorthanded tallies make a successful penalty kill much sweeter.
“You have one main job when you’re out there on the PK – keep the puck out of your net,” Kloos explained while breaking down the team’s success. “We’ve been fortunate to have some good bounces and some really strong execution to get our fair share of shorties. We probably have more than most teams score in a year in a month and a half, so hopefully we’ll keep that up. We know it’ll keep the other team’s power play on their heels.”
“With us being able to score some goals on the PK, that really changes the tide of a game and switches momentum,” Sam Carrick said. “For them, it takes the wind out of their sails and gives us a huge boost.”
While the goals get the headlines – and some of the shorthanded tallies are highlight-worthy scores – the real work comes up the ice, before the Gulls have control of the puck.
“The biggest thing is our pressure up the ice,” Stolarz explained. “We make it difficult for teams to break into our zone. We’re just killing valuable time off the clock, and not letting them break out gets them scrambling a little bit. They’re going to have to force plays, and it’s going to force them to make some costly turnovers. If you look at our last seven games, we’ve scored quite a number of shorthanded goals and good defense has led to offense.”
The biggest key – one of the team’s tenants of the penalty kill – is this aggressive mindset.
“I think it just comes down to outworking the other team’s power play,” Carrick said. “You can always tell when the power play is being outworked. You can see the PK buzzing around and being first to pucks, winning their one-on-one battles just to get the puck out, and it shows. It gives our group a lot of momentum, a lot of confidence.”
The success on the ice defines the team’s work off it. It starts with the coaching staff preparing the team hours before puck drop.
“Those guys watch countless hours of video on the other teams,” Carrick said. “They prepare us going into each game. We know who to expect on their power play units, where they’re going to be positionally, and it’s just on us to execute the game plan they put in front of us. You have to give them all the credit for doing all the video and pre-scouting work. All we have to do is go out there and execute.”
Execution leads to opportunity. Right now, the Gulls are taking advantage of their opportunities – and burning their opponents in the process.
“You’re not expected to score goals on the penalty kill,” Stolarz said while discussing the team’s shorthanded scoring. “To have the stretch like we have right now, it’s pretty unreal to watch the guys go out there and see them burying. They’re out there working hard, blocking shots. It’s nice to see them get rewarded right now.”