Saturday, February 16, 2013

Saturday Hockey Notes and Thoughts: Special Teams Sink UMD

BEMIDJI, Minn. -- Sometimes, this column is used to brag. Sometimes, it's therapy.

Lately, it's more about therapy, unfortunately.

Make it six losses in a row for UMD, as the season continues to fade away. Bemidji State snapped a 12-game winless streak here Friday with a 4-2 win.

In what has become almost routine fashion, a lot went right for UMD. The Bulldogs started strong, controlled most of the game's five-on-five play, and got some superb play from their fourth line of Cal Decowski, Dan DeLisle, and Adam Krause.

But the ten combined power plays in the game told the night's story. BSU -- 16 percent on the power play coming in -- went four for six in its chances, while UMD was scoreless in four opportunities. That 4-0 difference in special teams would probably be too much for even the best team to overcome. Certainly, a UMD team that is scuffling badly isn't going to overcome it.

This is even true on a night like this, where the visitors had a 34-17 edge in even-strength shots on goal.

BSU goalie Andrew Walsh was big when he had to be, especially five-on-five, where the Bulldogs applied loads of pressure, had some quality shots, and got bodies to the net as effectively as they have in weeks. On both UMD goals, the Bulldogs had good net drive, and on the second one, Dan DeLisle wasn't leaving the front of the net without a whistle or a red light being turned on. It worked, as Decowski eventually scored to give UMD a 2-1 lead.

The power play, however, was a different story. UMD couldn't generate enough traffic, and certainly couldn't get the puck there. Bemidji put a lot of pressure on the Bulldogs, and as we've discussed, aggressive penalty kills have been an issue for UMD this season. There have been isolated instances of UMD moving the puck quickly and effectively enough to get chances against that style of kill, but it's never been sustained through a game or weekend series.

Reality is that it's the same old story for this team. It's one that will struggle to score goals consistently. When you're that kind of team, everything else has to click.

Friday, the penalty kill didn't click. Bemidji State created three of the four goals with rock-solid puck movement, both up high and down by the net. UMD didn't have an answer, and couldn't get bodies in the passing or shooting lanes. Freshman goalie Alex Fons was beaten three times on plays where he simply couldn't get left to right -- or vice versa -- quickly enough to do anything about the shot fired.


In Fons' first start, he acquitted himself just fine. I'm not a goaltending aficionado, but it looked like he struggled to move laterally at times, which gave BSU scoring chances that didn't appear very dangerous at first.

On a positive note, I thought he got more comfortable handling dump-ins behind the net the more he did it. Seemed he was more and more confident with it, too. That's a good sign. Goalies these days have to be effective -- at the minimum, it seems -- with going behind the net and stopping dumps on the endboards, then at least leaving them there for the defensemen to start the breakout. Obviously, you'll occasionally see a goalie who starts the breakout for his team, but that's a level not everyone can get to, or needs to.

I'd be surprised if UMD didn't come back with Matt McNeely Saturday. He's had a chance to watch a couple games from the bench, which isn't a terrible thing for a young goalie. McNeely started 11 straight and 13 of 15, which is quite the workload for a freshman. He showed signs throughout that he's more than capable of being a No. 1 goalie at this level, but like the rest of the team, he's struggled to put that consistency together.

More importantly than anything that happens with the goaltending, UMD needs to fix that penalty kill. Once looking like one of the better kills in the league, it's fallen off a cliff the last two games, giving up seven goals in 12 chances. With the power play also struggling, it's going to be really difficult for UMD to end this skid and start trying to generate some positivity for the playoffs.


Elsewhere in the WCHA, Minnesota State kept the train rolling, thanks to a 4-2 win over Michigan Tech that featured four different goal-scorers for the Mavericks. And, yes, one of them was Eriah Hayes. Again.

In Madison, three Minnesota power play goals lifted the Gophers past Wisconsin 3-2. Minnesota went three-for-four on the power play in the game.

Also, Omaha shut out Alaska Anchorage 3-0 up north. The Mavericks only permitted ten shots on goal, which has to mark one the easiest shutouts Dayn Belfour's ever had.

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