The Chicago Blackhawks‘ penalty kill from last year appears to be a distant memory. Perfection is simply no longer a predictable standard in the transition from the penalty kill unit of Dave Bolland and Michael Frolik to one led by Marcus Kruger.
Kruger, for his part, has developed into a quality role player and with regards to the center position and five games into the young season is exactly 50 percent from the face off dot. However, the improvement will hopefully come, and the Blackhawks have minimal options as a replacement for non-crucial penalty kill.
Five games in, Joakim Nordstrom has been questionable on the power play, no thanks in part to his small frame. Not helping is the fact that Nordstrom has only been 44 percent from the faceoff circle. However, relief could come in the form of Brandon Pirri.
Pirri has had limited ice time this year, only playing 9:29 in his one game. But he was 60 percent from the faceoff circle and is believed to be preparing for a role as second line center, a job which Kruger took while Pirri was on the bench. Depending on the situation, Pirri could become useful on the PK against dangerous teams while Michal Handzus could take a day off.
With Pirri being the new proverbial healthy scratch and Jimmy Hayes being in AHL Rockford, Ben Smith and Brandon Bollig will now be the fourth line wings. Playing in the Blackhawks’ effective puck possession system, both Smith and Bollig have also tallied goals to begin the season.
Although the fourth line’s identity is not yet clear, the talent is building as are the stats. While the penalty kill is lagging behind, the fourth line pieces are falling into place, and the criticism will be a lot easier to deal with if the team keeps winning.
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