In Sunday’s 3-1 win over Syracuse, Justin Holl scored his first goal of the season. Martin Marincin recovered the puck after his first pass was blocked, circled the net and fed it to Holl. Ben Smith provided traffic in front of the net and Colin Greening set up opposite Holl presenting a one-time option.
It looked like a perfect power play setup. In actuality, the Marlies were shorthanded.
As the Marlies look to extend their winning streak to five games Wednesday night in Utica, the penalty kill has been a bright spot and major contributor to the strong start this season.
Seventeen games into the season, the Marlies have killed 88% of shorthanded opportunities, placing them second-best in the league.
It’s an area where the Marlies’ penalty killers take a lot of pride, which translates to their strong performances.
“We have a great group of killers. The forwards have been doing a great job. It helps to have two real good goalies back there,” Holl said on Tuesday before the team traveled to Utica. “So all that put together makes for a good thing.”
“I think it’s something that unit takes pride in,” Vincent LoVerde added. “They’re all guys that want to compete, all guys that want to block shots and we take pride in our penalty kill.”
“Those two are arguably the top two goalies in the league, I think,” LoVerde added about goaltenders Garret Sparks and Calvin Pickard. “They are great for us back there, we know if there are any breakdowns on the kill that they are going to be there to save the puck. Definitely having them back there really helps us.”
Another big factor in that success comes from strong preparation, planning and watching tape.
“[Assistant coach] Rob [Davison] does a great job walking us through video, preparing us for the upcoming games,” LoVerde said. “It’s something we work on. We want to continue to get better but we’ve been happy so far for the most part.”
“We have good preparation. We know the plan every time going into the game and we’ve been able to execute, so that’s good,” continued Holl.
Holl’s shorthanded goal on Sunday was the Marlies third this season, putting them in a tie for second most shorthanded goals in the league. The killers are always looking to make the most of opportunities to find the back of the net.
“It’s one of those things where when the opportunity presents itself, guys try to take advantage of it. You don’t just want to give the puck back to the power play,” said LoVerde, who scored a shorthanded goal against Hartford last month. “So guys are holding on to pucks, trying to make plays. We don’t look to do it, but if the opportunity presents itself, we like to take advantage.”
“On the penalty kill, you have to work extra hard because you’re down a man, so sometimes you’re able to catch the opposing power play falling asleep,” Holl continued. “So we’ve been able to do that a couple times and cash in on it, which obviously is a big momentum swing and has been a big key to our success as well.”
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As the penalty kill looks to continue rolling in Utica on Wednesday, the team will look to keep building space between the North Division opponents chasing them.
The entire season we’re really just trying to separate ourselves from the pack, which means the other teams in our division. It’s good to get wins early and try to get a little space between us,” Holl said. “We’ve been playing pretty well and we’re just looking to keep it going against Utica.”
Puck drop for Wednesday’s game is scheduled for 7:00 and fans can tune in on AHL Live or listen in with Todd Crocker on marlies.ca.