Hawks notes: Penalty kill finding its groove

LOS ANGELES -- Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville certainly wasn’t pleased with the team’s penalty kill earlier in the season, but he was never concerned it would spoil their chances.

A season after being among the league’s best penalty kill teams, the Blackhawks spent a majority of the first half of this season among the league’s bottom few teams in penalty-kill percentage. Quenneville never panicked, though. He tried a few different players in different spots, but he never made any major adjustments. He expected the units would find their grooves in time.

Quenneville and the Blackhawks are now being rewarded for that patience. Since falling to a 73.1 penalty-kill percentage on Dec. 14, the Blackhawks have slowly worked themselves out of the cellar. They have killed off 23 consecutive power plays and take a 79.6 penalty-kill percentage, which is 26th in the league, into Monday’s game against the Los Angeles Kings.

“No, [I wasn’t worried;] we were looking at the goals that were going in,” Quenneville said after practice at the Staples Center on Sunday. “The numbers of chances weren’t any different than what we did in the past. We had a really good year last year with the PK. I thought we were at the same level of scoring chances against. Sometimes they go in. I still think we’re going about it a little more predictable with the units.”

Quenneville could see the Blackhawks’ penalty kill heading in a positive direction prior to its current streak.

“I thought it was trending ever since we got off to that terrible start for a number games,” Quenneville said. “We still had a number of games where the numbers didn’t reflect we were doing the right things.

“Eventually, hopefully, you get into a little bit of a roll. You’re going to have some good stretches with a new PP, PK; you’re going to have some terrible stretches over the course of a long season. Hopefully, maybe, we’ve stabilized a little bit here, and we can feel good knowing that’s going to be game-in and game-out we’re going to be doing the right things.”

Quenneville credited a number of areas for the Blackhawks’ recent success.

“I’m going to say the goaltending,” Quenneville said. “I’m going to say the tandems. I’m going to say the movement, clears, pressure, short shifts, predictability.”

The play of Michal Handzus and Marcus Kruger as a forward tandem can especially be pointed to for the improved penalty kill. Kruger and Handzus had an adjustment period earlier in the season.

“We’ve been playing more of the system,” Handzus said. “We’ve sacrificed ourselves. We’re playing more in synch in form as a unit.”

Handzus thinks there's still room for room improvement. He wasn’t even completely satisfied with killing off all four power plays against the San Jose Sharks on Saturday.

“We still watch it after a game,” Handzus said. “We watched five minutes of video, and we saw we didn’t do everything right. We need to still keep progressing and progressing. They had some chances yesterday that we don’t want to give up. I think we’re more in synch, but I still think we have a ways to go.”

Hossa takes day off: Blackhawks forward Marian Hossa missed practice on Sunday due to a maintenance day, but he is expected to play against the Kings on Monday, Quenneville said.

Hossa also sat out the team’s morning skate against the Sharks on Saturday and played in the game.

“I know we had some days off as well,” Quenneville said. “Game-day skates is a time when everybody is out there, but if he feels he doesn’t need it, be ready for the games and we know he’s going to be ready.”

Quenneville said Hossa has earned the right to rest when he needs it.

“I know your body usually tells you if you need a day off, have a day off,” Quenneville said. “The experience and the time of the season, guys who have played as long as he has [can have a day off.] We’ll let him tell us, and he has that privilege.”

Bickell possible to play: Quenneville said forward Bryan Bickell could play Monday after being made a healthy scratch the past two games.

Bickell has seven goals, two assists and a minus-eight rating in 40 games this season. He had one points and a minus-seven rating in January.

Quenneville was hopeful Bickell would be motivated to play better whenever he played again.

“I would think whether it’s a healthy scratch bothers him or his play bothers him I would hope both of them bother enough that he’s going to do something about it,” Quenneville said.