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Breaking down the Bruins' penalty killing success in Game 1

How the 1-3 forecheck has led to the Bruins success

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Columbus Blue Jackets at Boston Bruins Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

The Bruins left the Blue Jackets shaking their heads Thursday night. The Bruins managed to kill off three two-minute minor penalties, and 1:18 of a too many men call early in the first. In the 7:18 of time spent at 4v5, the Bruins only allowed 9 shot attempts with 3 reaching Tuukka Rask. Additionally, the Bruins managed to create 4 shot attempts of their own, with Noel Acciari’s finding the back of the net. Let’s break down some of the reasons the Bruins were so successful Thursday night.

What makes up a successful penalty kill?

When I attended the RIT Sports Analytics Conference in August, I began talking to someone from the Maple Leafs organization about penalty killing. He told me that a successful penalty kill is about forcing the opponent to do what they don’t want to do. While most of our readership here will be quick to point out the Leafs’ poor penalty-killing efforts in the first round, I find this to be a simple, but complete definition of a good penalty kill.

Of course, the Blue Jackets want to score goals, but what we are referencing is how they want to skate and move the puck in order to be able to score goals. The first thing Columbus wants to do is control entries. More specifically, they want to control entries that will allow them to either get into their formation, or create a shot off of the rush. The Blue Jackets were only able to control 56% of their zone entries in game one, and only managed to gather into formation or take a rush shot on 31% of their zone entry attempts.

The Blue Jackets also want to get the puck to Artemi Panarin. He is a skilled player who can shoot the puck well as well as pass. He only managed one shot on net Thursday night. In other words, the Blue Jackets weren’t able to do what they wanted to.

The 1-3 Forecheck

The Bruins have deployed the 1-3 forecheck rather elusively as of late. As it sounds, the 1-3 forecheck has one forward pressuring the puck carrier, trying to funnel the play to one side, while the other forward and defensemen sit back in a line and shift with the play like a fosball table.

Above is a slide from Mike Pfeil’s presentation on penalty killing. If you’re interested, you can view the slides here.

One difference from the chart above and what the Bruins do is the positioning of the F2. Above the F2, who is Sean Kuraly, is on the outside as opposed to being between the defensemen (backs). There are a few advantages to this.

Notice how the Jackets forward heads behind Carlo into the open space. Instead of a forward being forced to go down low, Chara can engage in the puck battle that may pursue. Chara may be more likely to win the battle, but more importantly, the Bruins are in a better place coverage wise.

The handedness of the forwards also seems to be a focus for the Bruins. The forwards make an obvious switch in the clip above. This should help the forwards assist in board play as their strong side is closer to the boards when they are looking up ice.

The F1 plays a key role in assisting the defenseman who is pressuring the puck. He initially takes a route that obstructs a possible cross-ice pass. If the puck carrier does not send the puck deep, then he is forced to use the defenseman who is coming to support him. However, this player is too close to the puck carrier, and the F1 is able to attack.

The roles of the F2 and D2 should also be obvious here. The F2, in this case Marchand, is getting to the high slot and reads the play from there. Marchand, and Kuraly in the first clip, see the play being broken up and head up ice to pick it up and head the other way. They also have to be cautious of a cross-ice pass. The D2, as explained before, is taking away the deep forward.

When executed, the results of good zone entry defense can lead to this.

Blocked Shots

The Bruins weren’t so dominant at defending entries that the Blue Jackets couldn’t get any zone time. Following zone entries, the Bruins need to also be good in coverage. Specifically, they want to keep the puck away from Panarin.

The Bruins were able to block 4 of the 9 shot attempts they faced. Perhaps none were more important than the one above. Not only does Carlo block the shot with his stick, but is also in a position to take away a passing lane to the bumper.


The Bruins had great success on the penalty kill in game one. They have made it difficult for the Blue Jackets to get into the zone to set up and get shots on net. It will be interesting to see what adjustments the Blue Jackets might make in the next couple of games and how the Bruins will react to those.