After losing skid, Minnesota faces tough task down the stretch

The Gophers are 1-8-1 in their last 10 conference games with 10 to go.

Forward Leon Bristedt maneuvers the puck behind the goal line during a game against Michigan at 3M Arena at Mariucci on Friday, Jan. 12.

Max Ostenso

Forward Leon Bristedt maneuvers the puck behind the goal line during a game against Michigan at 3M Arena at Mariucci on Friday, Jan. 12.

Drew Cove

The Gophers are in unfamiliar territory.

Minnesota is 1-8-1 in its last 10 conference games, even though the team has won the Big Ten four years in a row. Now, the Gophers sit one game above .500 in the final stretch before the NCAA tournament. Minnesota will look to bounce back in an attempt to save its season.

“We’ve put ourselves in a tough spot within the league,” said head coach Don Lucia. “You don’t realize it almost because there’s been such a mix of nonconference games where we’ve done well and all of the sudden, boom, you’re not where you want to be.”

The Gophers collected one of their most complete wins of the season in the second game against St. Cloud State, with the Huskies holding the No. 1 rank at the time. Just a week later, Minnesota lost two consecutive games to unranked Michigan, when the Wolverines entered the weekend below .500.

“It’s something we preach about all the time and I think there’s definitely a sense of urgency,” defenseman Steve Johnson said. “At the same time, we’ve got to understand who we are and play our game.”

The urgency for Minnesota comes on the precipice of the last 10 conference games of the season, while holding a 4-9-1-1 record so far in the Big Ten.

Generating consistent offense has been a concern all season for the Gophers. Minnesota has no skaters in the double-digits for goals, yet, while they have a few on the brink of that with forwards Rem Pitlick with nine and Mike Szmatula with eight.

Minnesota’s skaters have historically scored more than they have this season, in particular two forwards — captain Tyler Sheehy and assistant captain Leon Bristedt. Each player has had a 20-goal season at the college level, yet Sheehy has seven goals and Bristedt has three this season. Lucia joked that he might need a psychology degree for his struggling forwards.

“That’s the hardest part at every level,” Lucia said. “You have guys that go through stretches. There’s not much you can say for somebody to score.”

The power play for Minnesota has also been another area of concern. Though the Gophers lost both games against Michigan, they broke a streak of 29 power play attempts with no goals. The power play goals did not lead to wins over the weekend, but Minnesota hopes it will at least jump start the offense.

“Our power play just hasn’t been good enough for the guys that we have,” said forward Casey Mittelstadt. “Hopefully, going forward here, we can get a few big goals from our special teams. It’ll be nice to get the power play going [to] help us out.”

Jack White contributed to this report.