Solid Penalty Killing Leads the Way for USA Hockey

Team USA hockey has turned a lot of heads at the 2015 IIHF World Championships, and one reason has been a great penalty kill.

USA Hockey has only given up two man-down goals in 22 attempts, which is fourth in the tournament. They were second for most of the tournament before Slovakia scored on the power play Tuesday.

Speed and Size Mix

One asset the Americans possess is team speed. The U.S. may not have a wealth of experience, but they are fast. The team is able to cover for any coverage mistakes by hustling to pucks and getting in position.

Recent International Hockey Posts

[catlist categorypage=”yes” numberposts=3 excludeposts=this]

USA Hockey also does not sit back in its shell on the penalty kill. They get in shooting and passing lanes to deny teams the chance to work deep in the American zone. The relentless pressure is a trait in all phases of the U.S. game and even more so on the PK.

Blueliners Best Defense for USA Hockey

Another asset Team USA had going into the tournament was their defense. The group boasts Torey Krug, Seth Jones, John Moore and other NHL-level defensemen. These veterans have been through the wars and know what to expect.

However, it’s the play of the young guys like Mike Reilly and Connor Murphy that has been impressive. Both players are barely over 20 years old, but haven’t been intimidated by the international stage.

Fortunato compares his game to Torey Krug of the Boston Bruins. (Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)
Torey Krug of the Boston Bruins has been a key on the penalty kill for USA Hockey. (Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)

The defense has been disciplined when they get down a man. They stay in their lanes and make it hard for teams to make deep entry passes.

The group is also made up of big bodies that can disrupt passes and block shots. Krug is the only member the group that’s under six feet tall.

There were some issues for USA Hockey in its 5-4 overtime win over Slovakia. The Slovaks pounced on loose

Goalies Have Been Golden

However, the old adage about the goalie being the best defender rings true. Both Connor Hellebuyck and Jack Campbell have played well for Team USA.

Hellebuyck leads the goalie statistics over NHL starters Pekka Rinne, Mike Smith, Sergei Bobrovsky and Ondrej Pavelec going into the group finale. Hellebuyck has made some really spectacular saves in this tournament, and raised his stock with the Winnipeg Jets.

YouTube player

Campbell may have been in goal for the loss to Belarus, but has been good otherwise. Campbell frustrated Russia after being named the surprise starter after Hellebuyck’s two great starts.

Both goalies have done a great job of limiting rebounds and covering a lot of ground in net. They’re both playing like goalies that have been in the big tournament before. Team USA’s goalie future could be secure for a long time.

RELATED: Unlikely American Hero, Connor Hellebuyck

Brains Behind the Bench

Team USA is being led by Columbus Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards, who also brought four other members of his coaching staff. The Blue Jackets were plagued by issues, but injuries were largely the problem.

Columbus Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards has done wonders with USA Hockey and it penalty kill.
Columbus Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards has done wonders with USA Hockey and it penalty kill.

Richards seems to be stressing the importance of being in the right place. Our own Drew Weber made a point of this during the USA-Slovenia game.

Good positioning and they do a good job of denying zone entries.

The Blue Jackets were 23rd in penalty killing during the regular season, but there was no lineup consistency due to the injuries.

Richards is mixing between diamond and box formations on the penalty kill. The multiple looks can frustrate the opposing team. Richards keeping it simple has made the Americans an effective penalty killing unit.

The Verdict

A lot of people thought USA Hockey would not advance out of the group stage, but they are here. The youthful exuberance has given the Americans hope of claiming its first gold medal since 1933.

The draw sets up that the Americans can at least come home with a medal. However, the penalty kill will need to be sharp if USA Hockey wants to advance.

Maybe the sustained success of USA Hockey will get more people to watch.

Dan Mount is a Nashville Predators staff writer for The Hockey Writers. You can follow him on Twitter, @DanMountSports.