Penalty killers getting aggressive

Minnesota has not given up a power-play goal since Jan. 2 against Harvard.

Gophers defense Jake Bischoff maneuvers the puck down the rink at Mariucci Arena on Dec. 5.

Joe Sulik, Daily File Photo

Gophers defense Jake Bischoff maneuvers the puck down the rink at Mariucci Arena on Dec. 5.

Mike Hendrickson

The Gophers seem to have settled into a groove after a rough start to the season.
 
 
Minnesota has scored 17 goals in its last four games and hasn’t lost a game in regulation since Dec. 11. The team has a winning record (11-10, 6-2 Big Ten) for the first time all season.
 
 
The team’s penalty kill, which struggled to open the year, is now thriving for the once-struggling Gophers.
 
 
“I think we’re playing really hard especially on the penalty kill,” junior forward Hudson Fasching said. “We’re playing really well in [our own] zone.”
 
 
In the Gophers’ game against then-No. 7 Harvard, the Crimson scored a power-play goal midway through the second period. Minnesota has not given up a goal on the penalty kill since, with opponents having 16 power plays in that time.
 
 
Being more forceful on the penalty kill has allowed the Gophers to come up with stop after stop.
 
 
“We’re being a little bit more aggressive, and I think that’s helping,” junior defenseman Jake Bischoff told reporters after Friday’s game against Michigan State. “When we see them fumble the puck … we’re in there right away, and I think that keeps working for us.”
 
 
The Gophers defeated Michigan State 5-2 last Friday, but the team did put the Spartans on the power play five times.
 
 
Michigan State only managed three shots on goal in those five chances.
 
 
“[We’re] a little more aggressive [and putting] more pressure on them,” sophomore forward Leon Bristedt told reporters after Friday’s game. “I think that’s a very good thing for us because we’ve killed off a lot of penalties in a row.”
 
 
The new mindset on the penalty kill has turned what was once a weak unit for the Gophers this year into a strong one.
 
 
The team allowed nine power play goals in six games to end the calendar year, and even after its recent hot streak, Minnesota ranks 31st in college hockey on the penalty kill.
 
 
The Gophers’ own power play once thrived while their kill was lagging behind, but for now the defensive unit seems to be back on track.
 
 
“Penalty kill has been good,” head coach Don Lucia told reporters on Tuesday. “It’s funny how specialty teams, they’ve kind of gone back and forth. … It won’t be easy for us to win games unless we’re plus on the specialty teams on a given night.”
 
 
Minnesota has zero power-play goals in its last 16 chances, a streak that dates back to Jan. 1 when they played the University of Connecticut.
 
 
The two opposing special teams’ streaks have still added up to a winning formula recently, as the Gophers are tied atop the Big Ten standings with 14 regular season games remaining.
 
 
“We’ve got off to pretty good start now,” Lucia told reporters on Friday. “You just hope we can build on that.”
 
Ben Gotz contributed to this report.