Friday, October 23, 2015

Saturday Hockey Notes and Thoughts: Blown Opportunities Doom UMD to Tie

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- What was a golden opportunity to put Friday's game away turned into a nightmarish power play for UMD.

A failed five-on-three, followed by clunky five-on-four time, then another failed five-on-three, followed by a short-handed goal.

That short-handed goal got Notre Dame back in what was a 2-0 game, and the Irish eventually picked up a 3-3 tie against the fifth-ranked Bulldogs.

In the end, UMD will be stuck lamenting seven power plays missed, including a pair of two-man advantages that totaled over a minute each. Yes, the Bulldogs hit a pair of pipes and had a few good looks on those power plays, but they got nothing by Notre Dame goalie Cal Petersen and were outscored 2-0 on special teams.

Iffy special teams play is certainly one way to lose. UMD didn't lose, however, because it kept throwing pucks at Petersen and eventually got one in the third on an Austyn Young rebound. The Bulldogs couldn't hold 2-0 and 3-2 leads, but surely will take a tie on a night where there were a few things not clicking.

UMD had some uncharacteristic turnovers, but handled Notre Dame's forecheck pretty well and generally had the better of the play. Problem: The night was full of special teams play.

On the power play, UMD lost faceoffs too routinely, especially on the five-on-threes in the second period. There was too much time spent chasing the puck down, and Notre Dame did a good job pressuring the visitors in the neutral zone, which caused turnovers and slowed up rush opportunities.

Generally, faceoffs can be overrated. They can be terrifically random at times, and puck possession so often changes within a few seconds of puck drop that you can't put too much stock into it. UMD has been really good lately at regaining possession within seconds of a faceoff loss. In those cases, the stat is almost completely meaningless, because it contributes nothing to the overall flow of play.

However, losing faceoffs is a bad way to do business when you have an extra player on the ice. It usually means the loss of 15-20 seconds or more of power play time, just like every other time a team clears while short-handed. It also ratchets up the pressure on all five guys to be clean out of their zone and through neutral, so they can set up and get something going while there's still time.

They don't parse the power play faceoffs out for us, so unless you go look at the official play-by-play, it's hard to get an accurate read. And as much of a nerd as I am, I'm not doing that.

UMD had 12 shots in seven power plays, and the Bulldogs outshot the Irish at even strength 28-13. I'll take my chances with the way UMD has controlled play at even strength this season, outshooting opponents 103-65 in four games, an average of 26-16 per game at even strength. With Kasimir Kaskisuo playing the way he is, that will win UMD a lot of games.

What am I saying here? The faceoff number (.445 in four games) is ugly. But even if it doesn't vastly improve over time, the shot totals -- which translate to scoring chances -- are what matter most. And while the power play is important, odds are we aren't going to see too many games like this one. More often than not, power plays will settle into the 3-5 per game range. Games like Friday will be the outliers, not the norm.

I'm not saying it's a great tie. I'm saying it's a tie. Lessons can be learned, and improvements made. It's still way too early in the season to go into a panic because of a tie on the road. Especially one that so easily could have gone the other way.


Asked the Twitterverse for some questions, and figured I'd answer them here. For those who missed out -- it was late notice -- I'll be doing this at various times throughout the season, usually on road trips where my time constraints are minimal. If you don't follow me on Twitter @BruceCiskie, you miss out on a chance to get your question answered. You also miss out on a chance to read some really bad jokes and stream of consciousness tweets

@biddco: "Your thoughts on face-offs. Was UMD poor at face-offs last year?"

Yes, UMD had a bad year in the circle last year, finishing in the botton 15 nationally. Despite that, the Bulldogs outshot most opponents and were a very good five-on-five team. If that trend continues, I'll live with the faceoff struggles. Just know that I believe at least some of the power play problems can be traced to losing faceoffs. It isn't always a huge deal, but it can contribute.

@campbench: "Is whoever had that 5 min penalty suspended for Saturday?"

That was Notre Dame's Andy Ryan, ejected for a blatant elbow to the head of UMD freshman Adam Johnson. The hit happened after Johnson released the puck on a soft corner dump-in during a UMD power play. While Johnson was eligible to be checked and Ryan could have finished him cleanly, Johnson took what appeared to my admittedly biased eye to be a blatant elbow right to the head. Easy call for the officials, and they got it right.

Is it suspension worthy? Well, in a different league, UMD's Carson Soucy got a game for a shoulder near the head of Bemidji State's Leo Fitzgerald. Like Johnson, Fitzgerald didn't appear to be injured and didn't miss a shift. However, what makes that case supremely different is that Fitzgerald was in no way eligible to be checked. Johnson was. The hit on Johnson was more flagrant, but will Hockey East see it as suspension-worthy? Without knowing much about the league's supplemental discipline policy or history, I'd guess Ryan will not be suspended.

@TeddyThighs (I won't ask if you don't): "Waiting for Adam Johnson seemed like forever, your thoughts so far? I am impressed, he has speed, hands, and a great shot IMO."

Extremely impressed. Clearly a kid who knows what it takes to compete at this level, and I'm told he's worked extensively on his skating. His hands are first-rate, and he can absolutely shoot the puck. He's been so extremely close to his first goal, and once he gets the first one, I believe they'll come in bunches.

Feels like he committed in 1995, but he's totally worth the wait. Doesn't look out of place at all on the top line, and in fact has enhanced it, something we talk with Dominic Toninato about during the first intermission of Saturday's broadcast.

@theboust: "What is it going to take to stay off the penalty kill?"

Wish I had the answer. I don't know that it's risen to the level of a problem yet. We saw UMD take a couple stupid majors (justified calls, but not the smartest actions leading to the penalties) in Bemidji, but I'd argue more than a couple calls that have gone against UMD in the last two games have been of the "ehhhhhhhh" variety. In other words, arguably soft calls at a time of the year where there are a lot of soft calls.

I don't think it's "Move along, nothing to see here," only because we saw it be a problem at times last year, and we don't want that to happen again. However, I'm reserving judgment for the time being. I do think UMD needs to do a better job of avoiding the avoidable penalties, and there were a couple on Friday night. Neal Pionk's penalty was absolutely necessary. A couple of the other stick fouls were not.


In other action involving the NCHC, it was another good night for the league, which continues to make a killing non-conference.

Freshman Jack Roslovic's second-period goal held up for Miami in a 1-0 win at St. Lawrence. Ryan McKay made 26 saves for the shutout win. Johnny Simonson and Bryn Chyzyk scored for North Dakota, as it won 2-0 at Vermont. Third goalie Matt Hrynkiw started and got his first collegiate shutout with 27 saves.

Omaha opened Baxter Arena by punting Air Force 4-2. Freshman Steven Spinner scored twice, and goalie Kirk Thompson made 28 saves as the Mavericks improved to 5-0.

It wasn't all rosey for the NCHC. Clarkson got a late power-play goal and then an empty-netter to ice a 4-2 win over Western Michigan. Quinnipiac scored four goals in the second -- the first goals allowed by Charlie Lindgren since he was a Bantam -- and the Bobcats beat St. Cloud State 5-2. Former Duluth Marshall star Judd Peterson had both goals for SCSU. Also, Boston College shut out Colorado College 3-0 in Colorado Springs.

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