Penalty Killing Strategy -- by Greg Siller

The objective of any penalty killing unit is to play the percentages and stop the opposing team from scoring. A team does this by using quickness, discipline, and an overall penalty killing strategy. The coach must ensure that the penalty killing unit understands and executes the following three penalty killing fundamentals:

  1. Control the area around the slot. There are at least two ways of doing this. The first way is to physically position a penalty killing player in the slot to control that area; preventing attackers from screening your goaltender, deflecting a puck into the net, or receiving a pass or a rebound. The second, and probably more effective way, is to position the penalty killing players around the perimeter of the slot to control that area using a triangular formation for roller hockey (see figure) or a box for ice hockey. The penalty killing team plays a series of two-on-ones between the puck carrier and the supporting players; attempting to break up a pass and gain control of the puck. If a pass does get to the slot, one defender should immediately converge on the attacker to gain control of the puck and to prevent any rebounds.

  2. Coordinate with your goaltender. Involving your goaltender in each penalty killing situation neutralizes some of your manpower disadvantage. Communication between the penalty killing unit and the goaltender is essential so there is no confusion about loose pucks or possible rebounds.

  3. Work the clock. When playing a running time game, get as many face-offs as you can. You'll tick off five-to-ten seconds for every face-off. Make player changes when the play is stopped but the clock is ticking. Although the referee may object to too many player changes, take advantage of at least one or two per penalty. Every player change reduces the remaining penalty time by at least five seconds.

One-player short. The most efficient way to play this situation is by using a triangular formation for roller hockey (the circled players shown in the figure) or a box formation for ice hockey. For the triangular formation (roller hockey), have two penalty killers play low to cover the deep attackers and the remaining penalty killer plays high to cover the opponents point men. For the box formation (ice hockey), have the four players surround the slot; with two players down low and two near the defensemen.

When the attacker XLD has control of the puck high in the offensive zone, LD and RD play-the-pass between the deep attackers while LF plays-the-pass between the remaining attackers.

If the puck is moved behind the net (see figure), do not go behind the net because the majority of time you will lose that battle to the opponents out front! When the puck is moved behind the net, play the percentages and force the puck carrier to make the first move. Generally in this situation, one of the attacking defensemen will move in toward the slot for a shot. LF should constantly read the positioning of the attacking point men as well as the puck carrier behind the net. He should move to the slot along with either rushing defenseman and communicate with his teammates along the way.

When you gain control of the puck, freeze it, skate with it, or shoot it down the playing surface. Either way, you knock precious time off the clock.

Two-players short. The objective in this situation is to let your goaltender play-the-shooter while the penalty killers make sure that passes across the slot and rebounds are controlled. Get as many stoppages of play as possible to try and eat away at the clock. If you come away without a goal being scored on you, you've done a fine job.

Give your players plenty of practice in penalty killing situations so that they can experience the best tactics to use. Hockey is not a very forgiving sport for penalty killing teams that do not practice.

Contact Greg Siller @ Pro Learning Systems