Friday, January 10, 2014

Goaltending a Likely Story in Omaha

OMAHA, Neb. -- This is too easy.

Through 16 games this season, UMD has a team save percentage of .884. The Bulldogs are 7-8-1.

Through 18 games this season, Nebraska Omaha has a team save percentage of .880. The Mavericks are 8-9-1.

That tends to make sense when you think about it. Teams that struggle defensively and in goal aren't going to win more than they lose over the long haul.

While it's likely that this will be a storyline this weekend when these two teams meet here in Omaha, it seems like it's almost too easy.

Something else will creep up.

Maybe it's a UMD defense that's become increasingly leaky. Maybe it's a UNO team that played like it missed Jaycob Megna last weekend and will miss him again Friday, along with head coach Dean Blais, who is allowed in the arena but can't coach or communicate with his staff during the game. Perhaps we'll see UNO's penalty kill struggles (71.2 percent this season) rear their ugly (not for UMD) head. But can UMD's inconsistent power play take advantage?

What's striking when you study Omaha is the fact that it's almost a different team in conference play. In special teams play, UNO has been outscored by a way-too-wide 34-20 margin. Opponents have 30 power play goals and four short-handed markers, while UNO has 18 power play goals and a pair of shorties.

However, UNO has nine power play goals and a short-handed marker in eight league games, compared to eight PPGs and a single shorty for opponents. That means that the Mavs have been outscored 25-10 in special teams during non-conference games.

By comparison, UMD's strong penalty kill (87.5 percent) has kept the Bulldogs going in special teams. UMD has outscored opponents 16-12 in special teams situations, thanks to only allowing 11 power play goals. The power play is only hitting at around 19 percent, which is below normal for UMD, but the kill is sixth nationally and has kept UMD from being blown away when penalties are called.

Watching UNO's loss to New Hampshire last Friday, the defensive issues were glaring. They also might be a bit overblown. UNO got caught with the long change in the second period a couple times, trapping tired players on the ice. Those players made mistakes, UNO got outnumbered, and UNH buried some chances.

Both PPG allowed in that game came from point shots, which crystallizes the need for UMD to get pucks to the net while on the man advantage. It isn't always a strength for the Bulldogs, but when they've kept things simple and just driven the net, good things have happened.

UNO is probably thinking the same things heading into this weekend. Stay out of the box, play five-on-five (UNO is plus-nine even strength over 18 games), make a couple saves, and attack the opponent's shaky goaltender.

Simply put, the team that does the best job attacking the net is going to be in position to win. Reality suggests that it'll probably be more complicated than that.

Don't ever expect a 6-5 game. Usually, when you expect to see that, a 2-1 game shows up.

Either way, UMD needs the points to start the second half on the right foot. The Bulldogs had games in hand on the rest of the league entering December, but now only Colorado College and North Dakota have played more league games. Only getting three points out of SCSU and Western Michigan at home hurt big-time. UMD can't let more chances slip away.

Only one non-league weekend remains, so it'll be a grind to the finish. It's a grind UMD needs to start off well here. Get more than half the six points, and let's roll.

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