Monday, October 27, 2014

Monday Musings: Bulldogs Split Again, Thanks to Emphatic Saturday Win

For UMD, Friday night was not its crispest performance. Then, things weren't necessarily looking good in the first few minutes Saturday. Denver outshot UMD to start the affair 6-0, and at one point analyst extraordinaire Kraig Karakas panned that they should throw a second puck on the ice so UMD could play with one, too.

The first media timeout of the game, which came with a shade over 14 minutes to go in the first, helped turn the tide a bit. UMD started controlling the puck more, began making smarter decisions in traffic and playing with more poise. Shots the rest of the first? 18-6, UMD. Nothing got by Denver goalie Evan Cowley, but Karakas was prophetic, mentioning that UMD needed to shoot lower because his glove was strong. It didn't work right away, but it eventually did, and UMD started chipping away at Denver's strong foundation.

Karson Kuhlman, who has emerged quickly as a force offensively as well as on the UMD penalty kill, started it with a slick backhander on a short-handed breakaway. It's UMD's fourth short-handed goal this season, good for the NCAA lead (tied with North Dakota). The penalty kill has continued to transition from a decent unit that was not any sort of serious offensive threat (one short-handed goal in each of the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons) to one that is more cohesive and a much bigger threat to turn mistakes into goals.

Last year, guys like Dominic Toninato and Alex Iafallo were a big part of that threat. Now, it's Kuhlman joining the fray. Toninato and Iafallo kill penalties still, but the presence of guys like Kuhlman will take pressure off of them. In games where special teams take up a big chunk of the 60 minutes, the coaching staff might be able to rest Toninato and Iafallo on the kill. Guys like Kuhlman, Adam Krause (once healthy), Justin Crandall (once healthy), Cal Decowski, and even some others have experience and/or the ability to kill penalties.

After Kuhlman gave UMD the lead, it became an avalanche. Austyn Young scored his first career home goal -- with help from some heavy traffic provided by freshman Jared Thomas -- to make it 2-0. More traffic and a huge scramble in front led to Cal Decowski's power-play goal late in the period that made it 3-0.

That power play? It was Joey LaLeggia's hit from behind on Toninato. Getting one of the best blue-liners in the nation kicked out of the game didn't hurt UMD's chances. The Bulldogs, however, still had to execute on the man advantage, which isn't an easy task against an elite PK like Denver.

Decowski scored, UMD picked up three power play goals in the game, and went on to a 6-1 victory.

A 4-0 differential in special teams scoring helps, but UMD earned this win. There were adjustments, and the Bulldogs did a much better job in their own zone. There were still a couple instances where forwards got too far up the rink before the puck was cleared from the defensive zone, something Scott Sandelin and staff harped on after Friday. But I thought that Willie Raskob rebounded very nicely after a tough night Friday. Brenden Kotyk probably played his best game, and the top pair of Carson Soucy and Andy Welinski were once again solid. It was a nice step against a good opponent.

A few more thoughts:
  • Young got tossed in the third period for facemasking. It's the fourth straight game UMD has seen a player ejected. In all, though, I thought UMD did a good job with discipline, especially on Saturday. Denver took some penalties out of frustration, and UMD avoided taking retaliatory stuff like teams in the past might have.
  • Krause left in the first period. Undisclosed injury that was unrelated to his brief absence on Friday. Not sure on the prognosis at this point, but with Crandall (lower) already injured, the forward depth took a hit this weekend. Sandelin said Friday that he expected Crandall to be available for the Miami series. We'll see how those injuries play out this week. 
  • Can't really say enough good things about Kotyk. Think about it this way: From February 23, 2013, until October 10, 2014, he played in zero real games. 594 days. From his first shift against Minnesota at the Ice Breaker in South Bend, all Kotyk has done is get better. He's also one of the first to step in and stick up for teammates when scrums ensue. Despite his constant presence in physical battles, Kotyk has taken only one minor penalty over six games. And let's not make any mistakes here. The more Kotyk gets involved, the less likely teams will be to try to push around UMD's skill guys.
  • Nice to see Austin Farley, Decowski, and Sammy Spurrell all get on the board this weekend. UMD has 23 goals through six games, and despite Toninato having six of those, 13 different players have goals. 18 different skaters and 19 players have points.
  • Even nicer to see a breakout at home. UMD had lost five straight on home ice and scored just 11 goals. In two of three games at Amsoil Arena this season, UMD has played with intensity and toughness. Hopefully it's a good sign after last year's 5-10-3 nightmare at home.
  • Hard not to feel bad for Blake Young. The big kid out of Battleford got his first taste of a real game on Saturday, and when Krause went down, he quickly fell out of the rotation. Young (no relation to Austyn, who's from the Cities) hardly got off the bench in the second period before getting a few more chances to show what he could do in the third period. When he was out there, he seemed to do fine, but he wasn't out there enough to get a strong assessment. I'll watch him more closely in practice this week, and we'll see if injuries and the general unwillingness of coaches to change the lineup after a win combine to get Blake Young out there again Friday against Miami.
  • Miami comes in off a crazy 2-1 overtime win over St. Lawrence. Doesn't sound crazy, but the RedHawks outshot the Saints 53-11, including 15-0 in the second period and 8-1 in overtime. Let that sink in. Miami had eight shots on goal in only 3:25 of overtime. Outshot the Saints 95-27 on the weekend, but only mustered a split after SLU won 5-4 Friday. Sean Kuraly and Blake Coleman lead the offensive charge with seven points each. Freshman and Wild draft pick Louie Belpedio has two goals and three points in six games.

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