Killers are ready

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:36 AM ET

PRAGUE -- There's one thing that Canadians know about playing hockey in Europe. They're going to spend time killing penalties.

"That's the way it is," Team Canada coach Marc Habscheid said. "It has been that way for years."

The 3-1 exhibition win over Latvia on Monday provided a perfect example. The lone referee was busy watching some jostling in the corner as the play broke out.

Shane Doan takes up the story. "The one guy was looking for a pass and he swung and hit the linesman and fell down," he said with a laugh. "The referee didn't see it, so he went and asked the linesman. He didn't want to say that he'd got in the way, so he blamed Robyn Regehr. They gave Regehr an interference penalty and he's shouting, 'I wasn't within 20 feet of him!' "

Over the course of the evening, the Latvians had nine power plays, the Canadians three.

"I think we might get that all the time out here," Doan said with a chuckle.

The good news for Canadians is that this team has some of the best penalty killers in the world, starting with the Detroit Red Wings duo of Kirk Maltby and Kris Draper.

They have a tactic that is highly effective in the National Hockey League and can be expected to reap dividends in the world championship as well.

They use it no matter which one is first up the ice because they're basically interchangeable. They're both great skaters and they know exactly what the other will do.

It starts with the guy closest to the puck going for it at full speed. Most penalty killers will ease off or peel away once they get close, but Draper and Maltby often go right in, forcing a pass or a turnover.

Today's coaches, most of whom tend to be conservative, dislike that kind of approach because it can effectively create a 4-on-3 advantage and they'd rather have their fingernails pulled out than be on the wrong end of odd-man situations.

That's one of the reasons the tactic works so well. The opposition is forced to counter a strategy it rarely sees.

"Malts and I have been doing it for seven or eight years," Draper said. "It's automatic. We just want one guy to get down and get as much pressure as possible, then the other guy is trying to anticipate where they're going to go. The other guy just comes back through the middle."

Most penalty killers are more passive. "They try to let them break out and get them in the neutral zone," Draper said. "We try to throw a little bit of a wrench in the controlled breakout and create a little havoc down in their own end."

TWO OF THE BEST

As a result, that dreaded 4-on-3 isn't much of a concern. For one thing, Draper and Maltby are fast enough to get back into the play. For another, they're much more likely to stop the breakout in its tracks than get trapped.

All it takes is a split second of indecision on the puck carrier's part and he suddenly finds himself with nowhere to go. That's when Draper and Maltby press home the attack.

"If you're within a stick length and the guy still has the puck," Draper said, "it's your sign to go in if you think you can get the puck, or get the man, or disrupt the flow of their breakout."

The other, meanwhile, determines which lanes are blocked off and heads into the open area to intercept a pass.

On the wide European ice, the tactic needs only one small adjustment.

"Because of the possibility of that stretch play with no red-line offside," Maltby said, "the first guy has to get in that middle lane to deter that. But dealing with Drapes, I pretty much know what he's thinking and what he's going to do.

"We just try to do the same basic type of thing that we've always done."

That's kill penalties as well as any tandem in the world.


Videos

Photos