Is it a troubling trend, or just an easy fix?
Two of the country’s worst power-play units have given UNO penalty killers fits over the past three games, converting at a 42.9-percent success rate.
That Wisconsin, which had been the country’s worst with the man-advantage, and Alaska-Anchorage, which had been better than only a handful, could score on 6 of 14 chances against the Mavericks is at least cause for pause for a UNO team facing a critical, end-of-the-regular-season weekend at Minnesota-Duluth.
“We just have to get back to the basics,” said UNO captain Brent Gwidt on Tuesday, as the Mavs were about to begin discussing their game plan for the Bulldogs and making adjustments. “Maybe we were trying to do a little bit too much or maybe overanalyzing it. We have to get back to our aggressive penalty kill and not a passive penalty kill.
“We’ve allowed teams to move the puck around a little bit and kind of sat back and didn’t do what we were doing earlier in the year — being really aggressive against guys and making it hard for them to move the puck and make plays.”
With its chance for home ice for the first round of the WCHA at stake, sixth-place UNO (18-14-2 overall, 14-10-2 WCHA) faces a ninth-place Bulldog team that has a huge chunk of its offensive success on the power play.
Minnesota-Duluth (12-17-5, 8-13-5) has scored at least one goal on the power play in 23 of its 34 games. It has scored a national-high 39.5 percent (34 of 86) of its goals with the man advantage.
“They’ve got a good power play, and if you’re taking a lot of power plays, you’d better kill them,” UNO coach Dean Blais said. “I thought we did a pretty good job Friday. Saturday, I didn’t think Wisconsin had a great power play, but we just didn’t do a very good job of killing at times.”
Alaska-Anchorage went 4 for 6 on the power play against the Mavs in a Feb. 16 game that UNO won 6-5 in overtime. Wisconsin was 0 for 2 last Friday in beating the Mavs 4-3, but then was 2 for 6 in Saturday’s 6-2 victory.
Going back five games to include the second game of the North Dakota series (Alaska-Anchorage didn’t have a power play in the opener of that series), opponents are 7 for 17 (41.2 percent) against the Mavs’ penalty kill.
“We haven’t pursued the puck aggressively enough,” Blais said. “We’ve been too passive on the penalty kill — not necessarily in the neutral zone or the offensive zone, I think we’re being smart there, but I think in the defensive zone we’ve got to get more aggressive. That means quicker on the puck.”
No. 16 UNO shares the WCHA lead and is tied for fourth nationally with six short-handed goals — two of them by Gwidt, one of the Mavs’ top killers — but Blais said he doesn’t think the Mavs are thinking offense when they should be worried about defense.
“Our No. 1 concern on the penalty kill is getting that puck down the ice,” he said. “It’s not looking for offense or cheating for offense, it’s making sure defensively that we’re getting the puck down and killing the penalty.”
Unlike Alaska-Anchorage and Wisconsin, Minnesota-Duluth has a highly respected power-play unit. It ranks sixth in the WCHA and 13th in the country with a 21.5-percent success rate.
Freshman Tony Cameranesi and senior Mike Seidel are tied for seventh in the country with seven power-play goals, and freshman Austin Farley is tied for 15th with six. No freshman in the country has more power-play goals than Cameranesi, and Farley is one of four freshmen with six. Cameranesi and Seidel are tied for third among WCHA players in power-play goals. Farley is tied for fifth.
“We’ll talk throughout the week about the guys we have to key on — guys like Mike Seidel and the other guys who can bury the puck on the power play,” Gwidt said. “We’ve got to have a good penalty-kill mentality, be ready to block shots, get in (passing) lanes and know who their key guys are.”
UNO’s penalty kill has slipped to be tied for eighth in the WCHA and tied for 42nd (out of 59) nationally with a success rate of 80.1 percent (109 of 136). It’s been successful just 73.5 percent of the time (39 of 53) since a Dec. 30 game at Quinnipiac — projected over the course of the full season, that half-season figure would be better than only one team.
“Obviously special teams in the league become crucial at this time of year,” Gwidt said. “They win and lose games, so in that aspect it is big. But it’s something we don’t want to freak out about. If we can get back to basics and correct it and get better at it, we’ll have success at it.”
Said Blais: “Our whole team has to do a better job — including the goaltender.”
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