Breaking Down Doug Houda's Penalty Kill Structure

Yesterday, the Detroit Red Wings announced the hiring of assistant head coach Doug Houda. Houda, a former Detroit Red Wings defenseman, was let go this summer by the Boston Bruins after 10 years of serving as a Bruins' assistant coach. With Tony Granato leaving to coach at the University of Wisconsin, Blashill elected to bring in the experienced Houda to run the penalty kill. After six consecutive years of finishing outside the top-10 in PK%, what can Red Wings' fans expect from Doug Houda's penalty kill system?

Houda's Penalty Kill Forechecking Scheme

Similar to what the Red Wings did this season, Houda prefers to utilize a Same-Side Press forecheck on the penalty kill.

In the Same-Side Press, the objective is for the first forward to angle the puck carrier to one side of the ice while taking away a pass back across the ice. As he angles the puck carrier towards the boards, the second forward will start to inch across the ice to press the puck carrier. If the puck carrier decides to pass, then this forward will break off to chase the pass. The puck-side defenseman is prepared to turn and retrieve a dump-in while the weak-side defenseman is prepared to cut off a cross-ice pass.

In this example, watch how David Krejci angles toward Alexander Steen to keep him on the right side. Krejci is cognizant of the fact that the Blues are trying to set up a drop pass zone entry and does not overcommit himself. He remains in the cross-ice passing lane, forcing Steen to drop the pass straight back.

As Steen approaches the blue line, Loui Eriksson steps up to challenge him to force a dump-in or a pass back. Steen elects to drop the puck back to Alex Pietrangelo. Pietrangelo then fires a pass across the ice to Vladimir Tarasenko who then attempts to enter the zone. Since Krejci did not overcommit himself, he is able to recover enough to deny Tarasenko a controlled zone entry.

As Tarasenko dumps the puck in, Torey Krug reads his eyes and turns to retrieve the dump-in.

Recognizing that Krug will retrieve the dump-in, John-Michael Liles skates to a safe area behind the net to provide a passing outlet. Krug gets Liles the puck quickly and Liles is able to clear the zone. This is a textbook example of how to play an effective same-side press.

If the Bruins forecheckers aren't able to force a dump-in, they make one last ditch effort to force a quick turnover. As soon as the puck hits the blue line, the Bruins will collapse around the puck carrier to force him to give it up. Watch this play frame-by-frame:

In this play, Steen has the puck and is attacking the Boston blue line with speed. He has support with David Backes at the near boards and Jori Lehtera on the far boards.

As soon as Steen hits the blue, Zdeno Chara starts to close off his space with his reach. Chara's goal here is to either force Steen to pass to Backes or dump the puck in. He does not want to yield space to Steen and he does not want to allow him to cut to the middle of the ice. Adam McQuaid is already anticipating a potential forced dump-in and has swiveled his hips to put himself in position to retrieve the puck.

As Chara holds his ground, Bergeron closes on Steen and attacks the puck as Steen tries to move to the middle. This forces a quick turnover and allows for the Bruins to clear the zone. The Bruins do an excellent job of taking away time and space from the puck carrier as he tries to enter the zone. In this particular game against, the Blues had five powerplays amounting to 7:03 of powerplay time. The Blues successfully entered the zone and maintained possession on just 5-of-14 zone entries, a ZEFR rate of just 35.7%. Additionally, they spent just 1:40 (23.6%) in powerplay formation. From Arik Parnass' work on the NHL Special Teams Project, we know that the ZEFR rate is the most effective metric at evaluating powerplays thus far and that teams produce a higher rate of shots and goals when in powerplay formation. Boston's ability to quickly and effectively pressure puck carriers is a large part of the reason why they have been so successful on the penalty kill the last five seasons

Boston Bruins Penalty Kill - Last Five Seasons

Season PK% Rank
2015-2016 82.2% 11th
2014-2015 82.0% 12th
2013-2014 83,7% 8th
2012-2013 87.1% 4th
2011-2012 83.5% 11th

Houda's In-Zone Penalty Kill Structure

Red Wings fans should be intimately familiar with Houda's penalty kill structure as it is the same base structure as the one the Red Wings operated this season. The Czech Press, or Wedge +1 is diagrammed for you below:

In the diagram above, you'll see that the two red defensemen and the center are clustered in front of the net to form a triangle or "wedge". The red right winger is the +1 and is responsible for aggressively pressuring the puck carrier. The RW and C will interchange positions as the puck swings from side-to-side. The basic tenants of an effective Czech Press include:

  1. Aggressive puck pressure without giving up cross-ice passing lanes
  2. Smart rotations by the forwards in and out of the wedge
  3. Effective close-outs by defensemen on shooters

We've already discussed how aggressive the Bruins are as soon as the puck enters the zone. If the opposition does find a way to get set up, the Bruins do an excellent job of chasing the puck carrier out of their comfort zone.

Watch how aggressively Marchand chases Kevin Shattenkirk down the boards. Pay special attention to his stick positioning. Many players would keep their stick in the middle of the ice to prevent a backhand pass to the point. Instead, Marchand recognizes that Troy Brouwer is behind him and is close to the boards, meaning that Shattenkirk would likely try to bank the puck off the boards back to Brouwer. As Shattenkirk gets himself down by the goal line, McQuaid steps in and takes away the easy pass down low.

Shattenkirk throws the puck back up the boards, and instead of Bergeron chasing, he patiently drifts back into the slot and allows Marchand to recover. By doing this, Bergeron takes away the potential benefit of a quick pass to Steen on the near boards as Bergeron is in position to step out on him. Marchand then pressures Brouwer at the point and as soon as he dumps the puck back to Shattenkirk, Marchand puts a stick on him to pressure the pass.

As you can see, the Bruins penalty kill is incredibly effective in limiting clean zone entries, generating quick zone exits, and providing consistent puck pressure. The thing that truly separates the Bruins penalty kill over the last few years from other teams is their penchant for controlled zone exits on the penalty kill. You may have noticed by now, but the Bruins utilize their top players on the penalty kill. Marchand, Bergeron, Krejci, and Eriksson were Boston's top four forwards in terms of shorthanded ice time this season. This is a big reason why the Bruins rank 2nd in the NHL with 47 shorthanded goals over the last 6 seasons. Watch the first 1:16 of this penalty kill by Marchand, Bergeron, Krejci, and Eriksson:

We'll see what Houda actually does with Detroit, but my hope is that he uses guys like Dylan Larkin and Andreas Athanasiou extensively on the penalty as their speed and offensive prowess can create significant problems for the opposition. I am excited to see what a coach that emphasizes speed, skill, and possession on the penalty kill can do with a roster full of run-and-gun youngsters.

Key Takeaways From Houda's System

  1. Skilled players on the penalty kill
  2. Aggressive, collapsing puck pressure at the blue line
  3. Generation of quick, controlled zone exits
  4. Aggressive in-zone pressure on the puck carrier

Which forward would you most like to see on the penalty kill next season?

Luke Glendening247
Dylan Larkin200
Andreas Athanasiou644
Justin Abdelkader37