Monday, March 17, 2014

Monday Musings: Bulldogs Dominate Everywhere But Scoreboard, Season Over

Buzz. Kill.

That's the best I can do to describe the sensation as Western Michigan scored two third-period goals Saturday to beat UMD 4-3 and end the Bulldogs' season.

In all honesty, one weekend of hockey pretty accurately summed up UMD's entire 16-16-4 season. On Friday, UMD outshot and outchanced Western Michigan, but gave up a power-play goal off a faceoff win and ended up never drawing even again from that point, despite a furious rally.

Saturday, the Bulldogs jumped to a 2-0 lead, dominated long stretches of play (specifically, puck possession, scoring chances, shots on goal, and shot attempts), ended up outshooting WMU 37-11, and lost 4-3.

It might have been an extreme example -- and it certainly was a poorly-timed one -- but it painted a perfect picture of UMD's season-long home-ice struggles.

That 5-10-3 Amsoil Arena record was not something head coach Scott Sandelin ever really wanted to talk about, but you have to know it ate at the UMD players and coaches. It's just not something you can flip a switch and solve, and it affected the team's postseason chances. 11-6-1 is a fine record away from home. Even if this team goes 8-7-3 at home, it's probably sitting in at least a bubble spot now, even with the WMU series loss.

UMD was outscored 2-0 on special teams Friday, and 3-0 on the weekend. The Bulldog power play was very good, especially on Saturday, but in that game, they couldn't beat Frank Slubowski. While the power play was inconsistent in terms of its execution, the one consistency was the lack of scoring punch from that unit.

UMD scored 41 power play goals and was an impressive 23.4 percent on the season in 2012-13. This season, the Bulldogs scored 26 power play goals and went just 15.8 percent on the power play, its worst percentage since the 2007-2008 Season of No Goals (11.5). It was a combination of inexperience all over the ice, shuffling the high forwards a few times, and occasionally not getting enough pucks or bodies to the net. The inexperience showed itself on occasion against good and aggressive kills like Denver and UNO.

But let's digest the numbers a bit when it comes to the UMD offense.

In 2012-13, UMD scored 99 goals in 38 games, an average of 2.61 per game. Special teams accounted for 42 of those 99 goals (41 PPG and one short-handed), leaving UMD with just 57 even-strength goals, an average of 1.5 per game. UMD was outscored 76-57 at even-strength, an eye-popping minus-19 differential.

In 2013-14, UMD scored 104 goals in 36 games, an average of 2.89 per game. Special teams accounted for 30 of those 104 goals (26 PPG and four short-handed), leaving UMD with 74 even-strength goals, an average of 2.06 per game. UMD outscored opponents 74-66 even-strength. The plus-eight differential was 27 goals better than last year!

(Honestly, this math leads to the conclusion that UMD absolutely should have experienced more than a two-win improvement over last season.)

Before the season, Sandelin and others talked about the need for improved goaltending. Last year, UMD posted a team save percentage of .896. Despite some positives scattered throughout the season, UMD's team save percentage ended up at -- you guessed it -- .896 this year. Counting conference games only, it actually dipped from .898 in the WCHA last year to .891 in the NCHC in 2013-14.

It's not about blame. There are five guys in front of the goalie, and before the goalie can fail to stop the puck that goes into the net, those five guys may all have made mistakes. Hockey is a game of mistakes. Pinning blame on one player out of six on the ice is just farcical.

Especially when that player, Aaron Crandall, saved this team's bacon so many times. 90 saves on 93 shots against UNO. 30-save shutout of hard-charging Miami in a great pitchers' goalies' duel. The win at Western Michigan where WMU scored first and had two five-on-threes in the first 30 minutes of the game.

Want me to go on?

Four goals on 11 shots doesn't look like great goaltending. And he's certainly played better. But be fair. You didn't think Crandall would do what he did in the second half of the season. And if he hadn't done that, we wouldn't have won 16 games or earned home ice in the NCHC quarterfinals.

Not Crandall's fault that the team took a bunch of dumb penalties throughout the season, including some horribly-timed ones.

(UMD completely dominated the first period Saturday, yet only had one power play to WMU's three when the horn sounded. Because of that, it was only 2-1 UMD after one instead of maybe 3-0 or 4-0, which would have been more fitting of how the 20 minutes were played. The penalties were avoidable. Two of them came in the offensive zone, which happened too much this season.)

In the end, there are a few different reasons UMD didn't win more, and why the season has come to a seemingly premature end. It isn't all on one guy, and it isn't all on one part of the team. Next year's group will have more experience, and therefore will have more leadership (remember, leadership isn't just about the captain and assistant captains). And there will be a lot of pressure on Matt McNeely and newcomer Kasimir Kaskisuo to improve the team's goaltending.

A few more quick thoughts on the season's end:
  • If money had to be placed on an early departure, it would be bet on Caleb Herbert signing with the Washington Capitals. 32 goals and 89 points in three years is nice, but Herbert could improve his game in college. I'm not sure I'd say he's ready, but it isn't my call. I don't think anyone else leaves early.
  • If Herbert leaves, look for a 2015 forward to come in one year earlier than previously planned.
  • Look for a 2015 defenseman to fill the 2014 recruiting class, a move brought on by the retirement of Luke McManus.
  • UMD's blue line could be stacked next season. Andy Welinski, Carson Soucy, Derik Johnson, Willie Raskob, Dan Molenaar, and Willie Corrin all have eligibility remaining. Add St. Scholastica transfer Brenden Kotyk, whom I was told would absolutely have been in the mix this season if NCAA rules didn't prohibit him from doing so as a transfer, and you have an impressive group.
  • Molenaar is going to be a stud. So is Raskob. Love the young guys in this group. Kotyk brings some serious size, and Johnson will block any shot and hit any player.
  • Doesn't hurt to have the three components of the top line all returning. Tony Cameranesi played really well, no matter what the numbers tell you. Led the team in shots on goal, and probably deserved double the total of seven he had on the season. Kyle Osterberg had a great year, as did Justin Crandall. This group came on very nicely over the last month.
  • If Herbert leaves, we need a second-line center. Hello, Cal Decowski.
  • Dominic Toninato, Alex Iafallo, and Adam Krause could make a great shutdown line again next season. I'd like to see them get more offensively, because their puck possession and work ethic justify it. Modestly increase their total of 25 goals between them, and watch the team's overall numbers improve even more as a result.
Another fun year. It's always fun to get to know guys. Lots of fun times and unique memories with every season. Thanks to the UMD staff -- Scott Sandelin, Jason Herter, Derek Plante, Christian Koelling, Josh Berlo (who is doing a fantastic job as AD, by the way, and I'm sure the best is yet to come in that regard), Bob Nygaard, Suz Hoppe, Chris Garner, Hogie, and countless others -- for the constant accommodations at home and on the road. Thanks also to the players for being such good kids and such a joy to be around during the week and during road trips.

We'll keep you up to date on news as it happens during the offseason. In the meantime, prepare for mindless rambling about things other than UMD hockey.

Enjoy the summer, if the snow ever goes away.

1 comment:

Bulldog Fan in Circle Pines said...

Any possibility you could post the Bulldogs schedule for next season?