How’s this for a challenge?
UNO took a 14-hour bus trip (split over two days) last weekend to Michigan Tech, then in the Friday series opener was forced to kill off seven penalties.
The Mavericks did it.
“It actually might have worked to our advantage,” UNO coach Dean Blais said. “We had three penalty-kill units and they had two power-play units. I think they got a little tired in the third period.”
UNO did more than just kill off penalties on special teams that night. Zahn Raubenheimer’s highlight-reel short-handed goal with 1:10 left in regulation gave the Mavs a 2-1 victory that set the stage for a two-game sweep.
Now, with No. 20 Minnesota-Duluth coming to CenturyLink Center for another WCHA series Saturday night and Sunday afternoon, UNO ranks second in the WCHA and seventh nationally with a 91.4 percent success rate on the penalty kill. The Mavs are 32 of 35.
Success on the penalty kill comes in multiple layers: good goaltending, solid stick work, aggression tempered by responsibility, effort.
“I think our guys are just outworking the other guys,” Raubenheimer said. “We’re sticking to our system, we’re getting the pucks out 200 feet … you’ve got to make sure the puck goes all the way down the ice to make sure you kill that time.”
Raubenheimer’s short-handed goal was UNO’s second of the season, and contributes to a special teams net of plus-3 that ranks fourth in the WCHA.
Other than Army, Minnesota-Duluth has the highest-ranked power play the Mavs (4-3-1, 2-1-1) have faced to date. The Bulldogs (2-3-1 overall, 0-1-1 WCHA) have converted with goals on 7 of 34 man-advantage opportunities for a 20.6 percent success rate that ranks 18th nationally.
Time may tell if UNO’s early-season success is all about execution or if some of it is attributable to the power plays it is facing. Arguably the three best teams UNO has faced — Tech, Northern Michigan and Notre Dame — haven’t done as well on the power play against the Mavs as they have with other foes.
Michigan Tech ranks 24th at 18.4 percent, but was 1 for 10 against UNO.
Northern Michigan ranks 32nd at 16.7 percent and was 0 for 11 against the Mavs.
Notre Dame is 43rd at 13.2 percent and was 0 for 2 against UNO.
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The Mavs have been a bit better with John Faulkner in goal, too. Faulkner (4-0-1) has held the opponent scoreless on 22 of 24 power plays (91.7 percent). Anthony Stolarz is 10 for 11 (90.9 percent).
“Your goalie is your best penalty killer, and I can’t say enough about Faulkner,” Raubenheimer said. “He’s been making huge saves for us.
“Our defensemen have been blocking shots left, right and center, and our forwards have been trying to get in the way. It’s been a five-man effort. Everybody is on the same page.”
Penalty kill personnel shifts from game to game, Blais said. Standouts are too numerous to include all, but Blais really liked what he saw last weekend from Raubenheimer and fellow forwards Johnnie Searfoss and Brock Montpetit.
Scoring goals as a result is a bonus.
“Some players will look for offense, but my preference is to clear it down the ice,” Blais said. “But it was a great game-winner by Zahn the other night.
“If you cheat instead of doing your job defensively, that’s not thinking the right way. We want our guys killing penalties by blocking shots, being gritty, getting in (passing) lanes, using good stick positions. To score off that is a lucky play, or (in Raubenheimer’s case) a heads-up play with good anticipation.”
Last year, during a two-game split in Omaha, Minnesota-Duluth was 0 for 9 on the power play.
“The secret is not taking a whole lot of penalties,” Blais said. “Seven in a game … that was tough.”
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