Penalty Kill (PK) Strategies in Hockey (Guide)

Hockey is a fast-paced and dynamic sport that requires teams to adapt to various situations, including penalty kills.

When a player from a team commits a penalty, the opposing team gains a power play advantage, creating an opportunity to score.

However, the team on the penalty kill aims to prevent this from happening by implementing effective strategies.

Penalty Kill (PK) Strategies in Hockey Include:

  • Aggressive Forechecking
  • Shot Blocking
  • Box Formation
  • Pressure on the Points
  • Diamond PK Formation
  • Wedge +1
  • Tandem Pressure
  • 1-2 Formation
  • Passive Box
  • Triangle
  • Rotating Box

Below we look in detail at the different penalty kill strategies and tactics used in hockey.

The Importance of Penalty Kill Strategies

Penalty kill strategies are crucial for a team’s success in hockey.

A well-executed penalty kill can not only prevent the opposing team from scoring but also provide an opportunity for the shorthanded team to gain momentum and potentially score a shorthanded goal.

Effective penalty kill strategies can turn the tide of a game and give a team a significant advantage.

Penalty Kill Strategies, Tactics & Principles

Here are some penalty kill strategies, tactics, and principles:

1. Aggressive Forechecking

One common penalty kill strategy is aggressive forechecking.

This strategy involves pressuring the opposing team’s power play unit in their defensive zone, preventing them from setting up their offensive plays.

By applying pressure and forcing turnovers, the shorthanded team can disrupt the power play and create scoring opportunities.

2. Shot Blocking

Shot blocking is another essential aspect of penalty kill strategies.

By sacrificing their bodies to block shots, players on the penalty kill can reduce the number of scoring chances for the opposing team.

Effective shot blocking requires proper positioning, timing, and the willingness to put oneself in harm’s way.

3. Box Formation

The box formation is a commonly used penalty kill strategy that involves positioning players in a box-like shape in their defensive zone.

This formation allows players to cover passing lanes and limit the opposing team’s ability to make quick, cross-ice passes or set up one-timers.

Statistic: According to NHL data, teams that utilize the box formation have a higher penalty kill success rate compared to those that use other formations.

4. Pressure on the Points

Pressuring the points refers to the strategy of aggressively challenging the opposing team’s defensemen at the blue line or near the blue line.

By pressuring the points, the shorthanded team can disrupt the power play’s setup and force turnovers, leading to potential shorthanded scoring opportunities.

5. Diamond PK Formation

The “diamond” penalty kill formation is a defensive strategy used in hockey when a team is shorthanded, typically during a 5-on-4 power play situation for the opposing team.

Since the diamond is so popular, let’s look at a fuller breakdown of the diamond formation:

  1. Formation Shape: As the name suggests, the players position themselves in a diamond shape in their defensive zone. This consists of one player up high (usually a forward), two players in the middle (usually the two defensemen), and one player down low (usually a forward).
  2. High Player: The player positioned at the top of the diamond is responsible for pressuring the puck when it’s at the point and challenging the opposing team’s defensemen. This player tries to limit the time and space of the puck carrier, potentially forcing a bad pass or shot.
  3. Middle Players: The two players in the middle of the diamond are responsible for covering the slot area and the faceoff circles. They aim to block passing lanes, especially cross-ice passes, and prevent quality scoring chances from the high-danger areas. They also challenge players positioned on the half-wall.
  4. Low Player: The player at the bottom of the diamond focuses on protecting the front of the net. They challenge the opposing player stationed in front of the goaltender, clear rebounds, and block shots. This player also helps in preventing passes down low and plays behind the net.
  5. Flexibility: One of the strengths of the diamond formation is its flexibility. Players can quickly transition to a box formation if the puck moves to the corner or if the opposing team tries to set up a different play. The diamond can also collapse into a tighter formation if the puck gets closer to the net, providing more shot-blocking potential.
  6. Objective: The primary goal of the diamond formation is to limit high-quality scoring chances by forcing the opposing team to take shots from less dangerous areas. By covering the slot and challenging the point, the diamond aims to prevent one-timers, deflections, and rebounds.
  7. Vulnerabilities: Like all strategies, the diamond formation has its vulnerabilities. If the high player gets beaten or if the opposing team can quickly move the puck, it can create seams or open shooting lanes. Teams with quick puck movement or players who can effectively shoot from the point can challenge the diamond formation.

Wedge +1

This is a variation of the diamond formation.

Three players form a triangle (or wedge) near the net, while one forward pressures the puck up high.

It’s particularly effective against a 1-3-1 power play setup.

Tandem Pressure

This involves two forwards pressuring the puck aggressively in the offensive zone, trying to force a turnover or at least waste time.

The two defensemen stay back, ready to defend if the opposing team breaks the pressure.

1-2 Formation

One forward pressures the puck carrier, while the other two skaters (usually a forward and a defenseman) position themselves in the middle to cover passing lanes and block shots.

The last player stays back, protecting the net.

Passive Box

Unlike the standard box, where players might step out to challenge puck carriers, in a passive box, players stay compact and close to the net, focusing on blocking shots and denying high-danger scoring chances.


Used mainly during a 5-on-3 power play for the opposing team.

Three players form a triangle around their net, trying to block shots and deny passes through the middle.

Rotating Box

Players in this formation are constantly moving and rotating positions based on puck movement, ensuring that they’re always in passing lanes and ready to block shots.

Golden Knights Penalty Kill

Penalty Kill Tactics in 5-on-3

A 5-on-3 penalty kill situation is one of the most challenging scenarios in hockey, as the defending team is down by two players.

Successfully defending against such odds requires a combination of tactics, positioning, and individual effort.

Here are some common penalty kill tactics used during a 5-on-3 situation:

Triangle Formation

The three players form a tight triangle around their net. The formation can be adjusted dynamically based on puck location, but the primary goal is to protect the slot and deny high-quality scoring chances.

Compact Defense

Players stay close to the net, making it harder for the opposing team to find open shooting lanes. This compactness also allows for quicker rotation and shot blocking.

Shot Blocking

Players must be willing to sacrifice their bodies to block shots. This is crucial in 5-on-3 situations to reduce the number of pucks that reach the goaltender.

Active Stick

Players use their sticks effectively to disrupt passing lanes, deflect shots, and clear rebounds. An active stick can force the power play unit to adjust their setup or make errant passes.

Goaltender Communication

The goaltender plays a pivotal role in directing teammates, informing them of potential threats, and coordinating defensive movements.

Quick Clearances

When the puck is won back, players should look to clear it down the ice immediately to kill time and relieve pressure.

Limit Cross-Ice Passes

Players aim to prevent quick, cross-ice passes that can easily displace the goaltender and open up shooting lanes.

Stay Disciplined

Avoid chasing the puck or getting out of position. Players need to remain patient, not overcommit, and trust their teammates.

Quick Shifts

If there’s an opportunity for a change, players should take short shifts to ensure they remain fresh and can maintain high-intensity defense.

Scouting and Preparation

Understanding the opposing team’s 5-on-3 strategies and tendencies can help in anticipating plays and disrupting their setup.

Successfully defending a 5-on-3 requires a combination of tactical awareness, individual effort, and teamwork.

While the odds are against the defending team, effective execution of these tactics can significantly increase the chances of killing off the penalties without conceding a goal.

Penalty Kill Tactics in 4-on-3

A 4-on-3 penalty kill situation typically arises during overtime when penalties are taken, or in specific game scenarios where multiple coincidental penalties have been called.

It’s a challenging situation given the extra space available on the ice for the power play unit.

Here are some common penalty kill tactics used during a 4-on-3 situation:

Triangle Formation

Similar to the 5-on-3, the three players form a triangle, but they have more ground to cover.

The formation can be adjusted based on puck location, focusing on protecting the slot and denying high-quality scoring chances.

Active Goaltending

The goaltender plays a crucial role, being aggressive when needed, cutting down angles, and communicating with the defense.

Shot Blocking

With fewer bodies on the ice, blocking shots becomes even more critical.

Players must be ready to sacrifice their bodies to prevent shots from reaching the net.

Active Stick

Players use their sticks to disrupt passing lanes and deflect shots.

An active stick can force the power play unit to rethink their approach.

Limit Cross-Ice Passes

Preventing quick, cross-ice passes is vital.

Such passes can easily displace the goaltender and open up prime shooting opportunities.

Stay Compact

While it’s tempting to challenge the puck carrier aggressively, players should remain relatively compact to ensure they don’t get caught out of position.

Quick Clearances

If the puck is retrieved, players should aim to clear it down the ice immediately, both to kill time and to potentially change personnel.

Patience and Discipline

Players should avoid being overly aggressive, which can lead to getting caught out of position.

Instead, they should wait for the right moment to challenge or intercept a pass.

Awareness of Key Opponents

Knowing the shooting and passing tendencies of the opposing players on the ice can help defenders anticipate and disrupt plays.


Constant communication among the three defenders is crucial to ensure everyone is aware of their responsibilities and any potential threats.

Successfully defending a 4-on-3 requires a blend of tactical awareness, individual skill, and teamwork.

Given the open space on the ice, the defending trio must work in unison to minimize scoring opportunities and see out the penalty.

Drills for Penalty Kill Practice

Here are some drills that can help teams improve their PK skills and strategies:

PK Breakout and Clear

  • Start with a dumped puck in the defensive zone.
  • The PK unit retrieves the puck and practices breakout passes to clear the zone.
  • Focus on quick puck retrieval, communication, and efficient clearing methods.

Shot Blocking Drill

  • Players line up at the blue line without sticks.
  • A coach shoots low shots from the point.
  • Players practice the proper technique to block shots, focusing on positioning and safety.

Triangle Formation Defense

  • Set up a 3-on-4 or 3-on-5 in the defensive zone.
  • The PK unit maintains a triangle formation, focusing on positioning, shot blocking, and clearing attempts.

Active Stick Drill

  • One defender in the slot with their stick on the ice.
  • Offensive players pass the puck around the perimeter.
  • The defender uses their stick to disrupt passing lanes and deflect passes.

Forechecking Pressure Drill

  • Start with a breakout from the opposing end.
  • The PK forward applies forechecking pressure, focusing on angles and forcing mistakes.
  • Rotate players to practice different forechecking techniques.

Clear Under Pressure

  • PK players retrieve a dumped puck with opposing players applying light pressure.
  • The focus is on making quick decisions under pressure to clear the zone.

Box and Diamond Rotation

  • Set up a 4-on-5 in the defensive zone.
  • The PK unit practices transitioning between box and diamond formations based on puck movement.

2-on-1 Shorthanded Rush

  • Start with a turnover at the defensive blue line.
  • Two PK players rush offensively against one defender.
  • Focus on creating shorthanded scoring opportunities.

Goaltender Rebound Control

  • Shots are taken from the point with players in front for deflections.
  • The goaltender focuses on controlling rebounds, directing them to safe areas.

Kill the Clock Drill

  • The PK unit must maintain possession in the neutral zone without the puck entering their defensive zone.
  • Emphasizes puck protection, passing, and positioning to kill penalty time.

Point Pressure Drill

  • Offensive players set up on the blue line and attempt to get shots on goal.
  • PK players apply pressure, trying to force turnovers and block shots.

Passing Lane Disruption

  • Offensive players pass around the perimeter.
  • PK players work on positioning to disrupt passing lanes without chasing the puck.

The key to a successful penalty kill is not just individual skill but also team coordination, communication, and understanding of the system.

Regularly practicing these drills can help instill the habits and reactions needed for an effective PK.

How Often Should You Practice the Penalty Kill?

The frequency of practicing penalty kill (PK) drills depends on several factors, including the team’s current performance, the level of play, the frequency of games, and the duration and intensity of practice sessions.

Here are some general guidelines:

Team’s Current Performance

If your team is struggling with the PK or has recently allowed several power-play goals, it might be beneficial to increase the frequency of PK practices until improvements are seen.

Level of Play

Higher-level teams (e.g., professional, collegiate) often practice special teams, including the PK, multiple times a week due to the significance of special teams in tight games.

Youth or recreational teams might focus on PK once a week or every other week, balancing it with other fundamental skills and strategies.

Frequency of Games

In periods with many games close together, there might be less time for specialized practices like PK.

Instead, focus might shift to recovery and game strategy.

In periods with fewer games, there’s more opportunity to delve into specific areas of improvement, including the PK.

Duration and Intensity of Practice

If practices are long and intense, incorporating PK drills into every session might be overwhelming and lead to fatigue.

In such cases, alternating days or focusing on PK 2-3 times a week might be optimal.

For shorter or less intense practices, a brief PK segment can be included more frequently.

Balancing Other Skills

While PK is crucial, it’s essential to balance it with other aspects of the game, such as power play, even-strength play, individual skills, and conditioning.

Ensure that there’s a holistic approach to practices.


Be ready to adjust based on upcoming opponents.

If you’re about to face a team with a potent power play, it might be worth dedicating more time to PK in the practices leading up to that game.

General Recommendation

For most teams, practicing PK 1-3 times a week is a good starting point.

This frequency ensures that players are familiar with the system and can react instinctively during games, but it also allows time for other essential areas of practice.

Always be ready to adjust based on the team’s needs and performance.

How to Score Shorthanded Goals from the Penalty Kill

Scoring shorthanded goals during a penalty kill (PK) can be a game-changer, providing a significant momentum shift.

While the primary objective of the PK is to prevent the opposing team from scoring, capitalizing on opportunities to score shorthanded can demoralize the opposition and energize your team.

Here’s how to increase your chances of scoring shorthanded goals:

1. Aggressive Forechecking

Apply pressure on the opposing team’s defensemen, especially if they are not adept at handling the puck under pressure.

Forcing turnovers in the offensive zone can lead to quick scoring chances.

2. Exploit Mistakes

Be vigilant and ready to pounce on any mistakes made by the opposing team, such as mismanaged puck handling, poor passes, or players being out of position.

3. Quick Transitions

Once you gain possession, transition quickly from defense to offense.

Look for fast breakout passes and utilize the speed of your forwards.

4. Odd-Man Rushes

If the opportunity arises, and it’s safe to do so, join the rush to create a 2-on-1 or even a 2-on-0 situation.

This increases the chances of getting a clear shot on goal.

5. Short Passes

Instead of just dumping the puck down the ice, look for short, safe passes to maintain possession and potentially catch the opposing team off-guard.

6. Defensive Positioning

Even when attempting to score, ensure one player is always in a good defensive position to prevent counter-attacks from the power-play unit.

7. Shoot Smartly

When you get a shooting opportunity, aim for rebounds or areas where the goaltender might give up a loose puck, creating chances for follow-up shots.

8. Exploit Tired Players

If the opposing power-play unit has been on the ice for an extended period, they might be fatigued.

Use this to your advantage by increasing the pressure and pace.

9. Practice PK Offense

During practice sessions, work on offensive plays from a PK setup.

This helps players become familiar with potential scoring situations while shorthanded.

10. Communication

Always communicate with your teammates.

Whether it’s calling for a pass, signaling a line change, or pointing out an open lane, effective communication can lead to unexpected scoring opportunities.

11. Study the Opposition

Before the game, study the opposing team’s power-play strategies. Identify any weak points or patterns that can be exploited when you’re shorthanded.

12. Stay Disciplined

While being aggressive is good, avoid taking unnecessary risks that could lead to easy goals for the opposition. Always prioritize defense on the PK, and choose your moments to attack wisely.

Incorporating these tactics into your penalty kill strategy can increase the chances of scoring shorthanded goals, but always remember that the primary objective of the PK is to prevent the opposing team from scoring.

Balance is key.


Q&A – Penalty Kill (PK) Strategies in Hockey

1. What is the penalty kill in hockey?

The penalty kill refers to the situation when a team has one or more players serving penalties, resulting in a power play advantage for the opposing team.

The shorthanded team aims to prevent the opposing team from scoring during this time.

2. How long does a penalty kill last?

The duration of a penalty kill depends on the penalty committed.

Minor penalties typically last for two minutes, while major penalties can last for five minutes.

However, if the opposing team scores a power play goal, the penalty ends immediately.

3. How do penalty kill strategies differ from team to team?

Penalty kill strategies can vary from team to team based on their coaching philosophy, player strengths, and opponent analysis.

Some teams may focus on aggressive forechecking, while others may prioritize shot blocking or defensive positioning.

4. Can penalty kills lead to shorthanded goals?

Yes, penalty kills can lead to shorthanded goals.

When a team on the penalty kill gains possession of the puck and creates a scoring opportunity, they can score a goal even though they have fewer players on the ice.

5. How important is communication during penalty kills?

Communication is vital during penalty kills.

Players need to effectively communicate their positioning, responsibilities, and potential threats to ensure everyone is on the same page.

Clear communication helps prevent defensive breakdowns and improves overall penalty kill effectiveness.

6. Are there any specific player roles in penalty kill strategies?

Yes, penalty kill strategies often involve specific player roles.

For example, teams may assign a forward to pressure the opposing team’s defensemen, while defensemen focus on clearing rebounds and blocking shots.

Each player has a defined role to maximize the team’s penalty kill effectiveness.

7. How do teams prepare for penalty kills?

Teams prepare for penalty kills through video analysis of their opponents’ power play strategies.

They study tendencies, key players, and set plays to develop effective counter-strategies.

Additionally, teams practice penalty kill scenarios during their training sessions to improve execution and cohesion.

8. Can penalty kill strategies change during a game?

Yes, penalty kill strategies can change during a game based on the flow of the game, opponent adjustments, or specific situations.

Coaches may make in-game adjustments to counter the opposing team’s power play strategies or exploit weaknesses they identify during the game.

9. How do penalty kill strategies impact overall team performance?

Effective penalty kill strategies can significantly impact a team’s overall performance.

A strong penalty kill can boost team morale, demoralize the opposing team, and provide momentum shifts.

Additionally, preventing power play goals against can improve a team’s defensive statistics and increase their chances of winning games.

10. Are there any advanced statistics used to evaluate penalty kill effectiveness?

Yes, there are advanced statistics used to evaluate penalty kill effectiveness.

One commonly used statistic is the penalty kill percentage, which measures the percentage of penalties successfully killed by a team.

Other advanced metrics include shot attempts against per 60 minutes and expected goals against per 60 minutes during penalty kills.

11. How do penalty kill strategies evolve over time?

Penalty kill strategies evolve over time as teams adapt to new offensive tactics and rule changes.

Coaches and players continuously analyze and adjust their strategies to counter emerging trends and exploit weaknesses in the opposing team’s power play.

12. Can penalty kill strategies be used in other sports?

While penalty kill strategies are specific to hockey, certain principles, such as aggressive pressure and defensive positioning, can be applied to other team sports.

However, the dynamics and rules of each sport may require adaptations to suit the specific context.

13. How do penalty kill strategies impact player development?

Penalty kill strategies can impact player development by providing opportunities for players to showcase their defensive skills, hockey IQ, and ability to handle pressure situations.

Players who excel on the penalty kill often gain valuable experience and recognition, which can contribute to their overall development as well-rounded players.

14. Can penalty kill strategies be used in youth hockey?

Yes, penalty kill strategies can be used in youth hockey.

While the complexity and execution may vary compared to professional levels, teaching young players the fundamentals of penalty kill strategies can enhance their understanding of defensive play and team tactics.

15. How can teams improve their penalty kill effectiveness?

Teams can improve their penalty kill effectiveness through a combination of factors, including player skill development, effective coaching, video analysis, and practice.

By focusing on proper positioning, communication, and execution, teams can enhance their penalty kill strategies and increase their success rate.


Penalty kill strategies play a vital role in hockey, allowing teams to defend against power plays and prevent the opposing team from scoring.

Strategies such as aggressive forechecking, shot blocking, box formations, and pressuring the points are commonly used to disrupt the power play and create shorthanded scoring opportunities.

Effective penalty kill strategies can impact a team’s overall performance, boost morale, and provide momentum shifts.

By continuously evolving and adapting their strategies, teams can maximize their penalty kill effectiveness and increase their chances of success.

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