Monday, January 18, 2016

Monday Musings: Much Better Performance, Marginally Better Result as UMD Draws With St. Cloud State

There was no question in my mind that UMD would bring a much improved effort in Saturday's rematch against St. Cloud State. And I wasn't disappointed.

But despite outshooting a very good SCSU team 39-21, the Bulldogs were forced to settle for a 1-1 tie after Dominic Toninato's one-man rush paid off for UMD in the first period, but Charlie Lindgren shut every other Bulldog chance down.

At the other end, Kasimir Kaskisuo made a couple very nice saves, but SCSU tied it on a tip-in by Joey Benik in the second, and Patrick Russell got his team an extra NCHC standings point with a shot that went off Kaskisuo's glove and into the net during three-on-three overtime.

(I'm not going to rip Kaskisuo, who has a .923 save percentage and a goals against safely under 2.00 (1.87). If it weren't for him, this team isn't 8-8-5. Hell, it seems wrong to criticize him at all, but Matt Wellens was on-point after Saturday's game (read it here) with sentiments very similar to those we expressed on the air during Friday's loss. I don't need to pile on. Kas has higher expectations of himself than most of us would probably think is reasonable, and there's no doubt he's having a good year and will only get better as he gains experience and more knowledge of how the game is played at this level.)

In reality, goalies are as human as everyone else on the ice, and if you're expecting UMD to win that game 1-0 against a really good opponent after Toninato's tremendously tremendous (©Eddie Olczyk) individual effort, it's probably not fair. Simply put, a team with this much returning talent -- along with the improving young guys -- has to score more than two goals in a weekend and not put that kind of pressure on its goalie to be perfect in order to have a shot at the win.

In UMD's last nine home games, it is 2-5-2 while being outscored 22-19. If you remove the two wins (both over Western Michigan), that margin is 20-6. Six goals in seven games on home ice. That's not exactly optimal.

After Scott Sandelin said his team took "three or four too many" penalties on Friday, the Bulldogs took two on Saturday and killed both SCSU power plays. The Huskies were held to three shots in those man advantage opportunities, which is a good sign for the UMD kill. The Bulldogs did a good job defensively, blocking 21 of 51 SCSU shot attempts (Blake Young had five and Carson Soucy four).

Every UMD skater except Sammy Spurrell had at least one shot on goal (Karson Kuhlman led with seven). Overall, it was a much better effort.

Now, it's time to fix the results.

UMD is 1-1-2 since break. Sandelin has said it's "go time" for his team. And while the PairWise still shows UMD at 17th and very much within striking distance for an NCAA bid, the path is going to get more and more difficult the longer the Bulldogs struggle to score goals.


None of this is meant to be a downer on a good effort. UMD controlled the puck and the flow of the game for a large amount of 65 minutes against what I think is the best team we've faced this season.

(No disrespect at all to North Dakota and UMass-Lowell, both of which are very good teams. But SCSU is the most explosive team I've seen. The Huskies have four lines that are more than solid, and that defensive corps is -- while young -- almost as deep as North Dakota's. So SCSU is deeper at forward, comparable on defense, and Lindgren is far from a slouch in goal. The Huskies are for real, everyone. I see them as a very legit national title contender.)

But scoring will be an ongoing topic until it's remedied. If anything else, look at a weekend where Kaskisuo gave up two possibly regrettable goals in regulation time (out of the four he conceded), and imagine where UMD would have come out if it could score three goals a game, a number Sandelin has often mentioned.

There are a lot of notable scoring droughts involving the Bulldogs. By no means do these notes mean I don't think the individuals are playing well. It's not meant as a callout of them, but instead the glut of guys with long dry spells goes to show the problem at hand.

Austyn Young and Austin Farley haven't scored since Dec. 5 (six games). Adam Johnson is goalless since the same date (five games played). Kyle Osterberg went 12 games without a goal before suffering an upper-body injury Friday that kept him from playing Saturday. Andy Welinski has no goals since Oct. 30 (15 games). Jared Thomas was a healthy scratch Saturday and hasn't scored since Oct. 17 (17 games). Alex Iafallo has one empty-net goal and Karson Kuhlman no goals since Dec. 4 (seven games).

Team-wide, only Farley (ten), Toninato (eight), and Tony Cameranesi (seven) have more than a half-dozen goals. Only Farley (20), Cameranesi (19), and Andy Welinski (11) have more than ten points.

Again, a number of these guys are playing good hockey. Welinski and Neal Pionk have strung together some high-quality performances since being reunited on the blue line. I like how Osterberg had been playing since break and hopefully he won't be gone long. Johnson looked great last weekend after sitting out the Saturday game at Miami. Kuhlman, as I already mentioned, really stepped up Saturday and generated great chances, and even when his offensive game isn't great, Kuhlman's effort level and play without the puck is usually exemplary.

The offense is likely to keep sputtering, however, as long as the power play struggles. The Bulldogs haven't scored on the man advantage since Dec. 5, a run of 22 power plays in a row without a goal. Over that time, UMD has gone from 22 percent on the season down to 16.7 now.

The Bulldogs need to solve their power play woes in order to make a run in the second half. It's hard to assess the personnel changes UMD made ahead of Saturday's game with only one power play. While that didn't score or generate a shot on goal, the puck movement was good, and UMD did a better job getting into the offensive zone than it did Friday. But it's hard to get much out of one two-minute power play. Friday was bad, but the goalless run is somewhat deceiving. They had some very good looks against North Dakota, and I thought they did okay against Miami.

It's similar to the team's play five on five. Just need to find a way to bury more pucks, but I fully acknowledge it's much easier said than done.


A rematch with Denver awaits the Bulldogs this weekend. The Pioneers took four of six points in Duluth Nov. 13-14, including a 3-0 Friday win that likely still stands as UMD's shoddiest 60-minute performance of the season.

The Pioneers are unbeaten at 3-0-3 since break, including a sweep at Omaha Jan. 8-9 and a win and tie over this last weekend at home against Western Michigan. Goalie Tanner Jaillet has started all six games since break, allowing 11 goals in six games and posting a .939 save percentage.

Denver defenseman Will Butcher is maturing into a top-flight player at his position in college hockey. He scored twice in the Jan. 8 3-0 win over Omaha and continues to play big minutes on the DU blue line. With sophomore Danton Heinen struggling a bit to score goals, freshman Dylan Gambrell has picked up some of the slack and leads the Pioneers with 21 points. Matt Marcinew leads in goals with seven.

DU's power play is two tenths of a percentage point better than UMD (16.9 to 16.7), while the UMD kill is better than DU's by a slightly larger margin (84.4 to 83.8).

These are similar teams in structure and style, and this should be an enjoyable weekend in a football-mad city (Denver hosts the AFC Championship Game on Sunday afternoon). Clearly, with how hard it is to score five-on-five, it'll come down to who can score on special teams. In the Nov. 13 win in Duluth, Denver scored two power play goals for a 2-0 lead in a game where not much was going on otherwise.

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