If only UNO could skate at even strength.
The Mavericks, preparing for another weekend showdown — this time with eighth-ranked Miami (Ohio) — are outscoring their opponents 22-11 this season when an equal number of skaters are on the ice.
But when power-play goals, shorthanded scores and empty-net tack-ons are included, UNO has been outscored 39-37. So the Mavs have given up 28 goals in outnumbered situations, including a nation-worst 22 while attempting to kill penalties and four more when the opponent has scored short-handed against the UNO power play.
Special teams, in other words, haven't been so special.
“It's so important now,” UNO coach Dean Blais said, referring in particular to penalty killing. “It's not three or four power plays (per game) like even three or four years ago. Now it seems to be seven, eight, nine.”
Of the 59 teams in Division I hockey, only eight have allowed more than 11 power-play goals, which is only half the number that UNO has surrendered. The Mavs have also been short-handed a nation-high 70 times.
Considering UNO's special teams struggles, particularly against its November scheduling gauntlet, its 6-6 record is nearly miraculous. UNO is tied for 56th on the penalty kill with a 68.6 percent success rate. The three teams equal to or worse than UNO while shorthanded are a combined 1-25-1.
But since that late October weekend when Cornell converted on 7 of 15 power plays in a two-game sweep, UNO has improved slightly. While going 4-2, the Mavs have killed off 19 of 26 power plays, a 73.1 percent success rate that is still far from ideal — it would rank only 54th compared to other teams over the course of the season — but is at least better.
“Cornell, it was just too easy,” Blais said. “But that was then and this is now. We're not the same team we were a month ago.”
UNO put together its only game of the season without a power-play goal against on Nov. 10, and has allowed no more than two man-advantage goals over the last six games — that followed a three-game losing streak in which UNO had allowed 11 power-play goals.
“I'm not concerned about one or two a game,” Blais said. “I'm concerned about three or four. If we're taking eight penalties and giving up four goals — that's awful. You're not going to win.”
The Mavs have also been on the penalty kill no more than five times in each of their last five games.
In a split with then-No. 2 Michigan last weekend, UNO was successful on two of four penalty kills in Friday's victory — though one lasted only 41 seconds, another 1:03 — and stopped three of four chances on Saturday — though one lasted only nine seconds.
“When you play a talented team, they're going to get their opportunities to score,” Blais said. “We've got to do a better job of killing, and your goaltender is your best killer — they've been better, and the penalty kill has been better.”
Miami (7-4-1, 2-2 National Collegiate Hockey Conference), which comes to CenturyLink Center for games at 7:37 p.m. Friday and 8:07 p.m. Saturday, brings a power play that ranks sixth in the country and in the NCHC at 25.5 percent (13 of 51).
Besides improved play in goal, UNO (3-1 NCHC) has done a better job identifying and covering potential threats.
“Yes, you'd like your penalty kill to be good, but when you're playing teams that are that talented, they're going to find a way to work it up top, or down low, or to shoot the puck and score,” Blais said. “We've got to have our goaltender being aware of what the other team is trying to do and make a save at the right time.”