Montreal Canadiens captain Nick Suzuki set a career-high in goals and points last season, an encouraging part of the steady evolution Habs fans have enjoyed watching since he joined the team in 2019.
And while the majority of the focus has been centered on his offensive prowess, we may have ignored one of the most impressive aspects of his results last year: his play on the penalty kill.
Suzuki Among Most Aggressive Penalty Killers
As the adage goes, the best defence is a strong offence, and that’s exactly what we saw last season. From very early on, Suzuki established that he would not be satisfied by playing a passive role on the penalty kill, as evidenced by his first shorthanded goal of the season, which was the result of a smart rush and a penalty shot call.
He would follow it up with two more shorthanded goals, both of which matched the beauty of his Datsuykian goal in October. The first took place against the Washington Capitals, as Suzuki capitalized on a nice poke check by Mike Matheson and a quick clear by Joel Edmundson to find himself on yet another shorthanded breakaway.
— nopClips (@nopClips) April 7, 2023
The second epitomized Suzuki’s attitude while killing penalty kills.
Not only did he create the turnover that led to the opportunity, but he also took a very aggressive flightpath to the puck, which led to a scoring opportunity, and, well, one of the nicest shorthanded goals we’ve seen in the last decade.
Some may say Suzuki cheated by holding the defenders’ stick. And they’d be right. But as we all know, if you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying.
What matters most is that Suzuki turned nothing into something, using his aggressive style to gain positioning and fool the opposing goaltender in the process.
ONE-HANDED + WHILE FALLING + SHORTHANDED– NICK SUZUKI ARE YOU SERIOUS?! 😧 pic.twitter.com/19pNkbrhwO
— NHL (@NHL) April 13, 2023
By The Numbers
To get the complete picture, we must look into more than just the three shorthanded goals he scored for the Montreal Canadiens.
The first thing that shows up when evaluating his play on the penalty kill is that Suzuki produced as many high-danger chances in 4v5 situations as a little-known forward from Edmonton called Connor McDavid.
And thanks to Corey Sznajder, who does fantastic work tracking NHL games, we have proof that Suzuki ranks among the most aggressive players in the league when it comes to driving the puck up the ice.
In otherwords, he does a great job turning defence into offence, and it’s not simply a matter of luck. It’s part of the plan.
I wouldn't say Aho is the best penalty killer in the league, but he is definitely one of the most aggressive in an "I'm going to try to score shorthanded & play keep-away with the puck" kind of way.
Did not lead the league in 4v5 entries in my tracking last year, though. 👀 pic.twitter.com/cHrDWuVWak
— Corey Sznajder (@ShutdownLine) July 26, 2023
Of course, it would all be for naught if Suzuki’s aggressive style of play on the penalty kill led to more scoring chances against the Canadiens.
But that was far from the case.
In fact, when Suzuki is on the penalty kill, the Canadiens allow fewer shots against compared to any other regularly used forward. Only two players have had a greater impact when it comes to mitigating shots against: Jordan Harris and Johnathan Kovacevic.
That gives us ample evidence to suggest that Suzuki’s incredibly aggressive approach to killing penalties isn’t just entertaining, it’s a very effective manner in which to approach the situation.
And there are few in the league better at doing it than the current captain of the Montreal Canadiens.