Special teams going opposite ways

Minnesota’s power play was successful last weekend, but its penalty kill was not.

by Mike Hendrickson

The Gophers’ penalty kill ranked as one of the best in the nation entering its series last weekend against St. Cloud State.
The team’s power play entered the series struggling, though, with only five power-play goals on 34 opportunities.
The two went in opposite directions over the weekend, as the Gophers allowed six power-play goals but scored three of their own on four chances. 
“It was nice to get three out of four from our standpoint,” head coach Don Lucia said. “But we need to spend more time in the offensive zone to give [ourselves] a chance to draw a few more penalties.”
The Gophers have only had 38 power plays this season, or 3.45 per game. It’s the lowest average in the Big Ten.
Minnesota is scoring on 21.1 percent of its power plays, the third-highest rate in the Big Ten, but it’s last in the conference in power-play goals because the team isn’t creating many opportunities.
St. Cloud State had no trouble getting on the power play against the Gophers over the weekend. Minnesota had 29 penalty minutes between the two games, including 23 on Sunday, which allowed the Huskies to have 10 power-play chances.
St. Cloud State took advantage to score six power-play goals in the series, and its unit is now ranked as the third best in the nation.
The Gophers’ penalty kill had only allowed opponents to score on three of 32 power plays coming into the weekend.
“St. Cloud is just really good on the power play,” Lucia said. “We saw that going in. We could’ve been in better spots. That’s what makes their power play really good. The quick puck movement and they move the puck better than anybody we’d seen so far.”
Sophomore defenseman Ryan Collins said the team is working on stopping passes down the middle of the rink when opponents have a man advantage.
“Obviously, St. Cloud is probably the best power play we’ll see all year, and when they get [those] passes, it can get guys out of position,” Collins said. “We’ve got to work on getting our sticks in those lanes and taking away [those] passes.”
The Gophers’ power play was able to have success of its own against the Huskies partly due to using more passes down the middle as well. The puck movement helped lead to two goals by junior defenseman Jake Bischoff.
“We hit [those] passes. We hit one, two up to [Bischoff], and shot,” Collins said. “It’s the same thing. When you get the penalty kill and you get the goalie’s eyes moving, you’re going to open up shots and open up holes in the net.”
The Gophers will try to even out both special teams units heading into Big Ten play this weekend while trying to build on what made their power play effective against St. Cloud State.
“Just communication and just moving the puck quickly,” freshman forward Tyler Sheehy said. “Also we were shooting the puck off the pass, and I think that was really effective.”