Wednesday, November 28, 2012

What Will Snap UMD Out of Funk?

At 3-7-2, things have not gone according to plan for the UMD men's hockey team.

But rather than trying to oversimplify things (score more and give up less, rah rah!), I thought it would be worth it to throw a few things out there that I'm seeing, stuff that I believe could help turn things around for the Bulldogs for more than a single night.

Scoring. Wait, I just said I wouldn't make it this simple.

It isn't.

The Bulldogs are averaging 2.42 goals per game, and UMD has scored all of five goals in its last four home games. Those numbers won't cut it.

There are a few reasons for this issue, and this issue is part of the problem in other areas. So much of UMD's early-season troubles either come back to scoring or are caused by it, that it has to be mentioned as a source of strife and a way of climbing out of this funk.

Puck possession. As an example, the lack of scoring is -- at least in part -- due to a downturn in UMD's puck possession compared to recent years. If you want to get some sort of proof that UMD doesn't have the puck as much as it has in the past, look at the five-on-five scoring.

Last year, UMD's power play struggled a bit (comparatively speaking). It scored 40 goals in 41 games, an average of .98 goals per game on the power play. This season, UMD has 14 power play goals in 12 games, an average of 1.17 per game.

It's not a stark difference. Assuming a 41-game season again, UMD is on pace for 48 power play goals. That's a 17 percent or so increase, not huge, but not insignificant.

But look at even-strength scoring.

Last season, UMD averaged 2.59 goals per game at even strength, getting 106 of them over 41 games. In 12 games this season, the Bulldogs have 15 even-strength goals, an average of 1.25 per game.

That's a decrease of 52 percent from last season.

Why is the power-play scoring ahead of pace, but the even-strength scoring basically halved?

Because a power play thrives off puck possession, which leads to crisp puck movement, which leads to players out of position, which leads to grade-A scoring chances and potential rebounds.

At even-strength, UMD isn't possessing the puck nearly as much as it needs to be, which decreases scoring chances by its mere nature. Because the opponent has the puck more, it means the Bulldogs are dealing with more scoring chances in their own zone, and they have to work so hard to get the puck back that when they get it, it's time for a line change.

Why isn't UMD possessing the puck as much?

Faceoffs. At times this season, the faceoff performance has been passable. But UMD was dominant in the faceoff circle at times last season, and the Bulldogs have yet to even approach that level, even for a period here and there.

It all started opening weekend, when the Bulldogs lost 18 of 25 draws in the third period against Ohio State, a game tOSU ended up winning 3-2 on a third-period goal.

It continued against Notre Dame, where it was a struggle to win draws both nights, but the Bulldogs weren't awful. Against Wisconsin, UMD struggled -- especially against Mark Zengerle -- on Friday, and were around 50/50 on Saturday.

UMD finished a little ahead of 50/50 against Omaha, then was absolutely hideous in this department against North Dakota. UND won 53 of 85 faceoffs Friday, then 47 of 84 on Saturday. All that puck-chasing eventually led to a UND overtime winner on Saturday, when UMD turned the puck over in its own zone and couldn't get to the front of the net before the winning goal was scored.

Against St. Cloud State, UMD was 49 of 123 on the weekend, including an unacceptable 21 of 58 on Saturday night.

It's too much puck-chasing and not enough established possession. It takes away the ability to be as effective on the forecheck, and it makes virtually everyone's job more difficult.

Turnovers. Every team turns the puck over. Sometimes, they just flip it up the rink, knowing they are giving up possession by doing so. That's not the problem.

In this case, UMD's turnovers are magnified by just about everything listed above. It impacts the bottom line -- scoring -- because every turnover takes away puck possession. Because of the struggles on faceoffs, UMD isn't possessing the puck as much, which only exacerbates the problem.

So as I was saying, the Bulldogs' struggles can -- in many ways -- be traced back to scoring. However, the issue can't just be resolved by saying "score goals and stop giving them up." There are reasons why UMD isn't scoring as much, beyond the fact that Jack Connolly, Travis Oleksuk, and JT Brown are all drawing paychecks to play the game now. Those losses are certainly a factor, but given the talent on hand, combined with the play of some of these youngsters, there is no reason to think that a 50 percent drop in five-on-five scoring is realistic, unless other factors are in play.

Just as I am pretty sure confidence is a part of why Caleb Herbert has as many goals in 12 games as I do, I'm confident that confidence (yeah, that makes sense, so deal with it) is a factor in the faceoff circle. UMD's centers have to bear down and win puck possession more often than they have been, and if it comes down to cheating on faceoffs, as it often does, the guy with the Bulldog on his jersey needs to be better at it than the guy on the other side of the dot.

This slump is breakable, and there are plenty of good players available. It's up to the players to step up, and up to the whole group to find way to accrue points.

No comments: