What are they?: When a teammate is sent to the penalty box by himself, the opposition is awarded a two-, four-, or five-minute man advantage, depending on the severity of the infraction.
Why are they so important?: More than anything because they're so difficult. Killing a penalty is the most grueling, taxing part of the game. And when you have four skaters doing the work of five for as many as five minutes, there simply cannot be positional, strategic or mental mistakes.
What is the objective?: To keep the puck out of your zone and away from the opposition for as long as possible. Clearing the puck is the best defense because the short-handed team can do so without being called for icing. Maintaining it in the neutral zone isnt a bad option either. Unfortunately, both are difficult.
What is the strategy?: Penalty killers spend most of the time in their zone. While there, most teams employ what is known as the box. The two defensemen stand on either side of the goalie. Their job: clear all traffic in front of the net, so the goalie has a better view of the puck. The two forwards stand at the top of the faceoff circles. Their job: follow the puck, try to steal one here and there and get down to block one should the opponent elect to shoot. When positioned correctly, the four become corners of a rectangle.
What to remember: Short-handed players, from day one, learn to keep the stick down and the head up. During a five-on-four, your eyes are your best friend. Watch the oppositions movements, his mannerisms. That will help you best defend him. And if your stick is on the ice in your zone, you have a better chance at clearing the puck should the opponent fan on a pass or shot. If the stick is in the air, at waist level, the puck will zoom right by.
Compiled by Tim Sullivan