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Penalty Kill Blues

Through Merrimack’s first six games, the Warriors penalty kill was outstanding; the last six games, not so much.

Not that it’s all to blame for the reversal of fortunes (Merrimack started the season 4-2-0 and has gone 2-4-0 in its six games since), but the defensive breakdowns have really shown on the penalty kill, where less shots are being blocked and more second-chances are haunting the otherwise defenseless goaltenders.

It’s a matter of fact that the penalty kill has struggled. In the last three games, all losses, the Warriors have killed just 73.7% of its penalties; in the last six games (2-4-0), the kill rate has been at 77.8% while in the first six games (4-2-0) the Warriors were killing 90.9%.

Teams that are behind tend to take more penalties, which has also troubled the Warriors. The first six games saw them forced to kill just 33 infractions. allowing 49 shots (1.48 shots allowed per kill) while in the last six games, that number has upped to 45 penalties with 71 shots (1.58 shots allowed per kill). Those shots-per-kill numbers aren’t jaw dropping, but it’s not a number the Warriors can afford to see rise.

In wins this season, Merrimack has allowed 1.33 shots per penalty kill while in losses, that number jumps to 1.79.

The stratedgy – formations, individual responsibilities, etc. – are all the same as they were in the first six games, so the numbers speak to a broader issue. It’s simple defense. It’s a loose man in front of the net with an easy tap-in rebound or a quick backdoor one-timer. It’s a puck that wasn’t cleared that is transitioned into something for the opposition.

The good news for the Warriors is that it’s the little things that have been missing. It’s things that this team has been very good at for the past five seasons and while a short lapse won’t throw away a season, a prolonged one will.

So if the Warriors have been “pretty good” at defending for, let’s say, most of the past 142 games (4 seasons, plus the first 6 games of this season), there is reason to believe that they’ll get back to it. They just can’t afford to have it be too late.

The Warriors are on pace for 24 league points (12-15-0), a total that would have earned them a playoff spot in each of the four seasons that Hockey East has been at 10 teams. But, with parity in the league being an actual reality this season, it’s no guarantee this pace will be good enough for the postseason.

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