Monday, February 27, 2017

Monday Musings: Denver Sweep Likely Sends Penrose Cup to Pioneers

Listen, I'm all about optimism. I'm not the guy who likes to throw buckets of cold water on things and such.

No, really, I'm not. Quit laughing.

But it seems a safe bet right now to say UMD will not be claiming its first Penrose Cup NCHC championship.

If that's how it ends up this weekend, the Denver Pioneers won it. UMD didn't lose it.

The Bulldogs won and tied over the weekend against Miami to run their unbeaten streak to 11, the longest since the school-record 17-game run in 2011-12. Yes, Miami got a late Gordie Green goal to tie Friday's game, then Green scored in three-on-three overtime for the extra standings point. Yes, it stinks to have missed out on a chance for a sweep.

But that's not what cost UMD the league title. No, what cost UMD the league title was Denver having won nine straight games since a Jan. 20 loss to St. Cloud State. What cost UMD the league title is Denver's 12-2 record (10-2 NCHC) since the new year. UMD is a mere 8-2-4 (6-2-4).

The Pioneers are playing great hockey. They kept winning when UMD needed just a little bit of help. Tip the cap to DU, don't scoff at the Bulldogs. And hopefully the two meet in the postseason, because it'll be epic.

As for Friday's game, the Bulldogs were not sharp in their own zone and still avoided a loss. That's probably a good thing, but it won't help if UMD can't use the lessons to get better.

Freshman goalie Hunter Miska wasn't his sharpest, but two of Miami's goals came on long shots with traffic, something UMD has typically done a good job of avoiding this season. If Miska can see it, there's a really good chance he stops it. And the Bulldogs can be better defending up high, preventing those pucks from getting through in the first place. Look for that to be a point of emphasis this week as Western Michigan looms.


Current NCHC standings:
Denver 53 points
UMD 49
Western Michigan 39
Omaha 29
North Dakota 29
St. Cloud State 28
Miami 23
Colorado College 14

If my math and tiebreaker understanding are correct, Denver, UMD, and Western Michigan will be the top three, and WMU is locked into third. UMD is probably 85-90 percent to finish second.

After that, it's a jumbled mess. Miami can leapfrog teams with a home sweep of UND, and St. Cloud State gets Colorado College at home while Omaha hosts Denver. It's too early to tell for sure, but if North Dakota gets a point from Miami and UMD finishes second, it'll be guaranteed to face Miami in the first round.

UMD heads to Kalamazoo to finish the regular season against resurgent Western Michigan. The Broncos are still scoring, still getting great work out of the power play, but now Andy Murray has been able to settle on a starting goalie in freshman Ben Blacker. He's right behind Miska with a .925 save percentage (Miska is .926). These teams are pretty evenly matched, especially when playing at even strength. If UMD's power play can stay hot (goals in six straight games, 8-for-26 in that stretch), the Bulldogs stand a great chance of leaving Kalamazoo with points.

No comments: