Gophers men’s hockey struggle to capitalize on shots

Minnesota has four goals in their last three games.

Gophers forward Mike Szmatula looks for a passing outlet against Michigan on Friday, Jan. 13, 2017 at 3M Arena at Mariucci.

Carter Jones, Daily File Photo

Gophers forward Mike Szmatula looks for a passing outlet against Michigan on Friday, Jan. 13, 2017 at 3M Arena at Mariucci.

by Drew Cove

Minnesota’s game this season has been defined as offensive, but recently that offense has been stifled.

The No. 7 Gophers play the Badgers this weekend in another Big Ten battle. The team will look to fare better on even-strength than it has in recent games.

“We generated a lot of chances,” head coach Don Lucia said. “It’s just [about] finding a way to get some of those to the back of the net.”

Minnesota has struggled recently, and the offense has scored four goals in the last three games. The Gophers have one even-strength goal over that same time.

Last weekend against Notre Dame, Minnesota found itself without an even-strength goal in two games, but two power-play goals, both from assistant captain Mike Szmatula.

“You’ve got to get into the dirty areas,” Szmatula said. “Especially when you start playing good teams like Notre Dame, and Wisconsin will be another one.”

The Gophers found the back of the net twice in two games against the Fighting Irish, and both were power-play goals from Szmatula. Szmatula and some other veteran forwards found some success on the shot clock, but not in getting on the board.

The assistant captain plays a style of game that involves getting down close to the net and close to the opposing goaltender.

“[The gritty play] has been an emphasis pretty much the whole year, but especially so as of late,” Szmatula said. “It’s a pretty easy game, you’ve got to score goals, you’ve got to get into the tough areas.”

Minnesota struggled on generating offensive chances 5-on-5, getting a lot of shots from the perimeter, something that hasn’t been a pressing issue for this team yet this season, except for the last three games.

Though the Gophers have struggled to score, the team has had no problem putting shots on target.

The shot totals have differed in the last three games. In the first Harvard game two weeks ago, they had 27 shots, but in the last three games they have 136 shots.

“Even [with] the power play, one of the things we talked about was getting more shots,” Lucia said. “We’ve got to get into the bloody nose alley a little more, [and get] a few more second chance opportunities.”

The Gophers have found a way to get shots to the net, and the only difference is that they aren’t scoring as many goals, especially even-strength.

Besides their own effort to get goals into the net, Minnesota has run into their fair share of obstacles.

“I think we did run into a couple of hot goalies in Harvard and Notre Dame,” captain Tyler Sheehy said. “Most importantly, we’ve been watching a lot of video on maybe overpassing, making too many little cute plays and they’ve been disrupted by good defense.”

The Gophers have played against two top goalies in recent weeks, Harvard’s Merrick Madsen and Notre Dame’s Cale Morris. Madsen stopped 48 of Minnesota’s 50 shots in the Saturday game. Morris stopped 84 of Minnesota’s 86 shots in the last weekend series and has aided Notre Dame to six consecutive Big Ten wins.

The Gophers are afforded the opportunity to face a goaltender they have met before this weekend and they have worked on 5-on-5 scoring and gritty play in practice.

“I think we just stick to the same idea,” Sheehy said. “Get as many pucks to the net as we can.”