UNO's penalty kill problems are fixable, the Mavericks insist.
But step one, they agree, is to stop taking undisciplined penalties in the first place.
“If we didn't learn from New Hampshire that we're not a good enough team to take undisciplined penalties and kill them off ...,” Mavericks coach Dean Blais said. “Last weekend we were undisciplined. It was hard to sit up in the stands and watch.”
The Mavs' stunningly struggling penalty kill combinations surrendered four goals in 13 chances in a weekend sweep at New Hampshire, a 69.2-percent success rate that was only slightly worse than the team's season mark of 71.2 percent, a figure that ranks 57th among 59 Division I teams. Only one team — 1-21 Alabama-Huntsville (with 34) — has surrendered more power-play goals than 8-9-1 UNO (30). Only 10 teams have allowed more than 18.
Much of this has been covered before, but it comes into focus again this weekend because coming to CenturyLink Center for a National Collegiate Hockey Conference series Friday and Saturday is Minnesota-Duluth (7-8-1).
The Bulldogs merely converted on 7 of 13 power plays while sweeping the Mavs in Duluth to conclude the regular season last year, including 5 of 8 tries in a 6-0 Saturday night blowout. That was part of an eight-game stretch in which the Mavs gave up 16 goals in 36 attempts against the power play — so UNO has been successful killing just 67.1 percent (94 of 140) of man advantages over its past 26 games.
The Mavs swept the Bulldogs at home early last season, but still allowed three man-advantage goals in nine chances. For the season, Minnesota-Duluth clicked at 45.5 percent (10 of 22) against UNO penalty killers.
While penalty killing overall is a problem, perhaps Minnesota-Duluth, 32nd nationally with an 18.8 percent power-play success rate, doesn't present quite as much difficulty as it did last season.
“I just think Duluth was really moving the puck well last year,” said Blais, who sits out the last of a three-game suspension in Friday's 7:37 p.m. opener. “They had a lot of skill on that power play. They do this year, too, but maybe they don't have quite the finishing skill as last year.”
So UNO isn't shaking in its skates, but it is definitely aware of the situation.
“It's not overly concerning,” alternate captain Dominic Zombo said. “We're going to work hard this week and take care of the problems that we have and we'll be ready by the weekend. That's what we do — work hard and get better every week.”
An average Division I penalty kill this season is successful about 82 percent of the time, and 38 teams are killing off at least 80 percent of the power plays against them. Minnesota-Duluth's penalty-kill unit ranks sixth, with an 87.5-percent success rate.
Only seven teams have been short-handed more than UNO's 104 attempts, and the Mavs are the country's eighth most-penalized team with an average of 15.6 penalty minutes per game. (Minnesota-Duluth is first at 17.5 minutes per game, but has been short-handed only 88 times.)
So it gets back to the kinds of penalties the Mavs take. It's one thing to maybe take a hooking penalty against an opponent with a high-quality scoring chance, but quite another to pick up a slash or check from behind — or a hook — on the other side of the ice.
Bad penalty, bad karma.
“There's definitely hockey gods,” Zombo said. “When you take a bad penalty, it does seem to hurt you. It's frustrating, but it is what it is.”
Leading 2-1 with six minutes left and a split in sight Saturday at New Hampshire, the Mavs took two penalties that turned into power-play goals and kick-started a four-goal burst in a 5-2 loss.
“Their power play was really good,” junior forward Josh Archibald said. “There wasn't much else we could have done except be more disciplined. ... Duluth has a good power play, and that's not a situation you want to be put in.”
Technically, UNO feels like its penalty-kill plan is sound, although Blais said changing strategy is being contemplated.
“Our goaltending has to be better, and the guys on the ice have to be better,” he said. “Guys have to do a better job of blocking shots and getting into pass lanes. If there's something that's going wrong, it's that not enough guys are playing the team game that's needed.”
The Mavs felt like they were unlucky on the power-play goals they gave up Saturday — defenseman Brian O'Rourke lost an edge and fell on the game-tying goal, and a favorable New Hampshire bounce turned into the game-winner.
“I can't really point out a particular problem,” Zombo said. “... Sometimes when things aren't going your way they snowball.”