Maple Leafs Systems – The Penalty Kill


There isn’t much I can add to the powerplay analysis that wasn’t in the write up by JP Nikota describing the Leafs use of the 1-3-1. They adopted this system in 2012-13 while more teams have incorporated the formation throughout the NHL.

This may be the same reason Randy Carlyle has kept the penalty killing system intact for the last two seasons.

More relevant in 2013-14 is the severe drop off in the success of killing penalties, a part of the ’12-13 Leafs that excelled while sitting at the top of the standings and helping propel the Buds into their first playoffs appearance of the post-lockout era.

The drop off is indeed staggering and lacking any systematic explanation.

1 - Leafs 2012-13 PK

2 - Leafs 2013-14 PK

The trend is getting ugly here.

After analyzing a tonne of video in an effort to identify differences between seasons, it’s time for the Occam’s Razor approach, with the likeliest culprit being the sheer increase in the amount of penalties amassed and outlined by Cam Charron over at Leafs Nation. Taking more penalties is indicative of underlying possession issues, of not having the puck and picking up a penalty to try to regain possession.

There’s a warning sign right there about the effect of not having the puck for long periods at even strength, 5v5 or 4v4. Lack of discipline may not be the main cause; the lack of puck possession is more likely to generate an increase in minor penalties.

Before getting into the analysis of the overall system, let’s look at some games from ’12-13. The focus is on two items here: the zone entry and the Leafs passive formation, and the forward’s interaction/interchangeable nature when the Sabres set up.

Each forward covers up in the middle/slot while the other engages the puck carrier at the point and on the side boards.

Against the Washington Capitals here, the focus is on zone entry and the difficulty the Caps have getting into the zone. Some of that is the penalty killing forecheck in the neutral zone, and some ineptitude of the Capitals breakout rushing the puck up ice.

Toronto lines up three players along the blueline with a roaming forechecker attempting to disrupt the breakout. Also worth noting here is also an aggressive approach in the neutral zone, making entry into the zone very difficult. Forcing the opposition to bobble the puck on entry or making entry itself difficult has obvious positives in killing the clock.

Boston has struggled with the man-advantage, but the focus is on the slot man here on setup and how he’s able to break away from the penalty killer at the top of the pyramid in the slot for an extra chance in close. Jay McClement is locked on to the shooter at the point while the Bruins slot man drops to the top of the crease for an attempt.

With the abundance of scoring talent to put out as a powerplay unit, Tampa Bay also moves back to an overload on their second unit. An overload formation is when the defensemen line up at the top of the zone and three forwards form a triangle on the one side of the ice, as seen here via the Blue Seat Blogs. It’s easy for teams to set up into the 1-3-1 by dropping the one defenseman to the half boards. Most teams have used the overload and are now switching that up to the 1-3-1 or a variation of that formation.

Even Toronto reverts to an overload when they are retrieving loose pucks on the powerplay; that is, dropping the player back to the point while the three forwards fight to regain possession of the puck and once again set up the 1-3-1.

Below, around the one minute mark, the Lightning demonstrate creating separation by drawing out the roaming forward before a quick pass off. Tyler Bozak is drawn out really high before the pass is sent down to the right side, where the winger is able to step into a shot on goal.

3 - PK Separation

Here’s the video sequence.


Here’s how the Leafs (and Marlies) approach penalty killing. Let’s start with the zone entry.

The best description of the system stems from the great resource Hockey Plays and Strategies by Ryan Walter and Mike Johnston, who named it the ‘Czech Press.’

4 - Leafs NZ 1-3 passive PK

The forward locks up the right wing with a rover up front. Both teams seem to be retreating into the zone and aren’t aggressively forechecking as much, ensuring there’s coverage in case they take the blueline while forcing the powerplay team to dump the puck behind them or skate it up the sides and in.

This is the look from 2012-13 with the formation staying consistent in 2013-14.

5 - NZ 1-3 retreating PK

If there’s one noticeable difference between seasons, it’s the reduced tendency of roaming for the lead penalty killing forward. The effect was more noticeable in ’12-13, when the forward would lead and engage the puck carrier. In ’13-14, the forward stays firm in formation.

6 - NZ 1-3 1314

A retreating box works best against teams that like to dump the puck into the zone due to the space afforded by the defensemen at the line. In general, it will allow a greater amount of zone entries, limit the middle of the ice, push opponents to the side, and limit cross-ice passes.

There’s a moment in the video against the Capitals where they try to isolate the puck carrier similar to a closing of a pincer when the Capitals forwards bobble the zone entry.

7 - Envelope PK forecheck

When a team does finally get into the zone and sets up with the new sexy 1-3-1 formation as described above, the Leafs’ counter is to ensure there is always a man in the middle of the ice with an active stick. Once any forward abandons that spot to engage somewhere else in the zone, the other forward immediately occupies that space.

It looks like this below, where the puck is passed across to the point and the center occupies the slot the winger has vacated. Having a man in that spot always takes away the direct point shot, especially if the forward takes away the point very quick.

If at all possible, the goal is to regain possession and clear the zone, whether by a clearing event or skating it out into center ice before dumping it the length of the ice.

8 - Czech Press

Placing an imaginary triangle – from the slot forward to the defensemen, with the other forward engaging on the strong side – illustrates how the set up and mechanics operate.

9 - Leafs czech press formation

A variety of rules apply when down a man; common sense items like having an active stick, outworking the powerplay units and getting off for a line change at every opportunity, while maintaining awareness of their surroundings.

This one, however, is a must.

10 - nobighits

Let’s see how all of this has been executed in 2013-14.

This first video is of the second game of the season against the Philadelphia Flyers, where the Leafs allowed one goal in seven powerplay opportunities. There are four different forward pairings [James Van Riemsdyk, Dave Bolland (and Bolland with Nik Kulemin) – Tyler Bozak, Jay McClement – Mason Raymond, Troy Bodie] in the sequences and they each play the slot as diagramed above.

The late November game against the Washington Capitals was interesting to note because of the ‘shadow’ Randy Carlyle placed to neutralize the presence of Alexander Ovechkin, changing the dynamic of the penalty kill from a 5v4 to a makeshift 4v3 with the puck and formation out of whack. The Leafs forwards break away from the traditional replacement of space in the slot and have a stationary forward patrolling that lone area. Having the flexibility to change things up adds a dynamic that can’t be spotted easily by advanced scouting and would require in-game adjustments by opposition coaching staffs.

A few nights later, the Pittsburgh Penguins used three powerplay goals to creep back into the game after the Leafs ran up a 4-1 score. Yes, yes, there were third period shenanigans that contributed to the contest; however, the penalty kill let them down.

The slot man formation is just as evident here.

These are the Pittsburgh powerplay goals in that game; two while playing 5v4 and the third on a two-man advantage with a bullet of a shot.

A systematic explanation of the Leafs penalty killing isn’t fully available to explain the dramatic drop off. There isn’t enough of a systematic change from what made the units successful in ’12-13.

The bigger issue stems from the problem plaguing Toronto in general, their play at even strength leading to a significantly higher amount of penalties,

The powerplay and penalty killing units aren’t a weak spot here. The causes are much greater than any systematic breakdown.

To start figuring out where, it’s important to look at what is happening in the complete game.

Issues that need to be address begin in the defensive zone and continue in the approach to the offensive and neutral zone forecheck.


Thanks for following along in this systems series.

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  • MaxwellHowe

    Seems to me the PK is just a microcosm for the Leafs poor play overall – lack of energy and urgency.  Katsaros is, as usual, somewhat coy about it, but that seems to be the point here.

  • Thedoor29

    hoolihan this is what I don’t understand how hard is it to have one unit work the press and the other work the diamond if the press does not work for the personnel. I personally don’t like the box as is gives a low 3on 2 while occupying the point men soo far from the net. Although some goalies prefer it cause then there are less bodies in the way.

    Hoolihan I think you are ight I do not remember a full sweep of that forward from one side to the other more like a tag and move approach.

  • sniperstar

    hoolihan Yes they did this last year as well. And sometimes the man on the point continues to pressure the point. They don’t always rotate.

  • Pent_House

    hoolihan They do this because the +1 is already moving, so it’s easier for him to sweep across the whole ice. That way the weak side guys just takes a couple steps to the opposite side and is still covering the weak side without much energy spent. The goal is definitely to get the +1 to force the puck low where the defender then comes over and you have a pressure situation where you can take the puck and clear it.

  • .JVR.

    Can somebody please tell me exactly how Phaneuf’s hit on Millar was any different than pacioretty’s hit on Boychuk?

  • Black_Hawk

    .JVR. did Pacioretty get suspended ?

  • Black_Hawk

    .JVR. honestly i dont mind dion getting suspended but if your gonna suspend him make sure you suspend everyone else who does it too. I dont like the fact he got suspended but everyone else who hit from behind this year did not. And The boychuck one ended in a injury and still no dice.

  • mcloki

    Shift_Disturber1 Your last line is the most telling and I’ve seen is all year. The Leafs obviously are confused by the officiating. Each night is greatly different and completely lacking in consistency. We here on the boards comment every game that this or that should be a penalty or was called in the first but not int the third. To the point that the penalty calls are AT BEST RANDOM and worst infuriating as hell to a majority of MLHS’ers. As far as penalty Kill not being where it used to be. We used bugger mobile bodies last year. This year we have relatively weak D on the PK. Say what you will. but Kostka, Fraser, Holzer punished guys last year. This year our D doesn’t physically engage the same.

  • Belfour20

    Shift_Disturber1 What I really want to know is why do you even own a bruins jersey?

  • Xxxxxnew

    Inconsistency’s the biggest problem with the system. for me that was a slightly off balance smaller guy getting a decent bump but not a heavy hit from a bigger guy who wasn’t drilling him. If they want to call those as a way of protecting players in the long run that’s fine with me, so long as it doesn’t change from ref to ref or game to game.

  • .JVR.

    Nope, just a two minute penalty on the play.

  • .JVR.

    Boychuk getting stretchered off the ice and going to the hospital doesn’t make it worse than Phaneuf’s hit?

  • Xxxxxnew

    I’m wondering if Fraser is even able to fight after suffering a fractured skull eight months ago. And the knee brace sure isn’t helping.

  • mcloki

    “A few nights later, the Pittsburgh Penguins used three powerplay goals to creep back into the game after the Leafs ran up a 4-1 score. Yes, yes, there were third period shenanigans that contributed to the contest; however, the penalty kill let them down.”

    Contributed. Why are we so afraid to call a spade a spade, Why does nobody talk about the obvious explanation. Do an in depth article like this point out poor officiating. Make that a regular feature on this site and you’d gain notoriety everywhere. and a million fans.

    We can look at the PK as a cause of e the problems or we can look at it as a symptom of some very biased officiating this year. We’re the most penalized team. WE, Are the most dirty team in the league. Our powderpuff D and wingers. Kessel and Bozak are really that intimidating. We’re really tough on the opposition. Or do we seem to get a lot of “Phantom” calls on us. Stop internalizing these penalties as being wholly the teams fault.

  • Airfreshener

    Shift_Disturber1 Shanban: If we enhance and slow we clearly can see Dion Phanuef is wearing a blue and white sweater, with a white leaf that says “Toronto Maple Leafs”

  • Belfour20

    Well we’ll see just how much the leafs will miss Dion now in the next 2 games.

  • .JVR.


    Not sure what you’re watching, but pacioretty clearly hit him on the numbers and it was definitely boarding.

  • .JVR.


    I did watch it and he hits him from behind and Boychuk goes face-first into the boards.

  • Alec Brownscombe

    The Pittsburgh game was heavily influenced by the refs. Complete bullshit.
    But it does not encapsulate the entire penalty killing time problem, of which we are the league leader. It’s a simple possession problem. All those calls you don’t like – they’re because we spend  too much time chasing the puck, giving a higher probability for penalties, deserved or not.

  • .JVR.

    Boychuk was facing the boards and Pacioretty hit him face-first into them.
    If that isn’t from behind, I can’t help you.

  • Thedoor29

    Alec Brownscombe mcloki agreed Alec plus more energy put into chasing and defending. weather it be going back to retrieve the 3rd dump in in a row or trying to skate it back out for the 3rd time.

  • Alec Brownscombe

    Black_Hawk .JVR. Inconsistency is the only issue for me. Not that we’re taking dirty hits from behind out of of the game. What Dion did cannot be condoned.
    But there seems to be a pattern with league discipline. The Leafs don’t get away with theirs, countless others do. Unfortunate byproduct of being the league’s biggest market with the most media scrutiny. Unfortunately the League Discipline office isn’t keeping a consistent standard.

  • reenergized

    Shift_Disturber1 call it what you like, but the scab, even though initial contact was the “side” turned it into a hit from behind with the follow through. 

    I am not Dion’s biggest supporter (actually didn’t like him much until this year) but all he’s doing is cutting off the angle, there is no way Dion can anticipate that Clarkson is going to slash him and the miller is going to buckle … I think it’s purely accidental contact, without the slash, Miller sees Dion and cuts back (which is what I think he was about to do when he got slashed) 

    Patchority guided Boycuck into the boards and followed through …  Sidenberg elbowed D’Amigo in the head … Lucic on Gunner in the playoffs, Schenn the other night clearly from behind … Nash from behind … Chara almost on a weekly basis elbows or hits somebody in the head … it seems to only happen to the leafs where we don’t get the benefit of the doubt …. Even SHanaban says in th evideo that the “bad” impact was a result of the slash but Dion shouldn’t have been planning that hit anyway … Asshat, without the slash that hit wouldn’t exist …..

  • Black_Hawk

    Alec Brownscombe Black_Hawk .JVR. yeah exactly, just keep them consistent and im fine with it

  • Thedoor29

    Shift_Disturber1 .JVR.  That is why I am  thinking it was 2 games. cause there was no penalty called. and by shanaban saying in the video it is boarding is the NHL not saying the refs are incompetent.

  • Alec Brownscombe

    Black_Hawk Alec Brownscombe .JVR. It’s all public relations.  Thousands of reporters cover a dirty Leaf hit, so they suspend us every time. No one gives a fuck if a Panther does it. It’s not actual player safety and a consistent message that they seem to be concerned about.

  • reenergized

    Alec Brownscombe mcloki and all the penalties in the offensive zone or in the neutral zone? Puck possession doesn’t matter when a call is weak or “bad” or even phantom … if it hadn’t been made, then our guys may have been able to work out of it or as usual try and  keep everything to the outside … BS penalties deflate the team and take away any rythm or game plan we may have had going in … could we be better at killing them … sure!!, but if we shouldn’t be on the PK in the first place we can stick to our game plan …

  • mcloki

    Alec Brownscombe mcloki Come on. Malkin knocking the goalie into the net and then pushing in his pad. That is not bullshit. And that’s the game.

  • Black_Hawk

    Alec Brownscombe Black_Hawk .JVR. yeah thats the bs part about it. The NHL is so fucken influenced by the media. If the media is covering it and givning it heat then they will act but if no one in the media cares then they will let it go. They got to go by what is right and what is wrong not the fricken media.

  • Xxxxxnew

    Here’s the boarding rules for a penalty.
    41.1 Boarding – A boarding penalty shall be imposed on any player or goalkeeper who checks or pushes a defenseless opponent in such a manner that causes the opponent to hit or impact the boards violently in the boards. The severity of the penalty, based upon the impact with the boards, shall be at the discretion of the Referee.

  • Alec Brownscombe

    mcloki Alec Brownscombe I was agreeing with you that the Pitts game is bullshit – realizing now it could’ve been read in two ways.

  • mcloki

    Alec Brownscombe mcloki Remember the first period. What happened to deflate the team. Could it be game management on some really shaky calls. Now more than ever we need to catalogue the penalties that are called against the Leafs. And just call them as we see them in replay. Shanny does it, so can we.

  • mcloki

    Alec Brownscombe mcloki Then I blame my writing style. Let’s never argue again.

  • reenergized

    mcloki Alec Brownscombe we need to catalogue the non calls too

  • LeafsForLife

    Hey Gus! Another fantastic job! These are so awesome and quite enjoyable. Im learning so much and watching for these things too. So very much appreciated.
    One other thing i would like to say, because i havent been around in a few days, i really enjoyed the this past Hangout with Paul Hendricks. Awesome we had him on there and fantastic to hear from him and his insights and time given to us. Just wanted to say thank you for this as well. He was spot on with his thoughts on Rielly, Gardiner, and hanging onto our young players even through the rought times, *ahem* alex steen *ahem*.

  • mcloki

    reenergized mcloki Alec Brownscombe we do it’s called Leafs game in an Hour. BAZINGA! Hear all week people, tip your waitress.

  • Alec Brownscombe

    mcloki Alec Brownscombe Haha – how I wrote it could’ve been read one of two ways. I was fuming about the Pittsburgh game. We were robbed of the extra point.
    Still think most of our penalty issues come down to the flawed game we’re playing.

  • Komas Taberle

    I wonder if we win if he will accept $5M a year?

  • reenergized

    Alec Brownscombe mcloki one extra point in the standings, but a 3 point swing with the penns … Instead of being up t 2 points on them after the game, we were down 1 … may mean nothing in the long run, but if we are a couple points off away from home ice with the penns before we crush them in the playoffs … …

  • LeafsForLife

    Its probably been said before but i think its bullshit phaneuf got
    suspended. I dont believe he deserved 2 games. But shanaban and the
    league obviously have an agenda against the Leafs so whats done is done.

  • lieffan

    Thanks again, Gus!
    This PK has looked good for a couple of kills in each game but we’re just taxing it too much.
    Not sure there needs to be a revamp of any system.
    As you concluded rightly, this team just needs more of the puck.

  • LeafsForLife

    absolutely right. the exposure does it for sure. and for whatever reason, the only leaf fans on the announce teams is joe bowen so it makes it even worse in that regard. we rarely get positive exposure. i see TSN pushing Slewban for the olympic team but where is the push for phaneuf to be there? What about pushing Bernier and Riemer for the olympics? Nothing! Cant even say anything about how good JVR looks this year with Kessel. They just want to find negative shit and blow it up into more than it is.

  • DJ_Llewellyn

    MapleLeafsHS *goes back to putting Fraser and ranger back on the ice*

  • ingy56

    LeafsForLife How many games did D’Amigo get for injuring Seidenberg’s elbow?

  • Xxxxxnew

    Dion’s salary is actually $5.5 mil this season.

  • DeclanK

  • Dangle_My_Berries

    sooo…Dion gets suspended, but Siedenburg doesn’t get anything for his hit on D’Amigo?

  • Coldincowtown

    Just heard about Phaneuf suspension. I am generally not one to rant on reffing bias, conspiracy theory or any of that stuff as I do think it tends to balance out. I agreed with Kadri suspension. But this one, a big fat steamy nasty piece of runny bullshit!! Brutal decision by the gutless one (Shanaban). I am so pissed right now. That is all. I will be back to watching when P9 returns. Two game boycott for me as I really think the NHL sucks balls right now. Over and out.

  • Xxxxxnew

    It was front loaded a bit when he signed it in Calgary.

  • loomx

    DeclanK I love all these behind the scenes videos(even if it’s the Bruins). It really humanizes the players. btw, who’s the narrator? I recognize the voice.