Power play woes continue

Matthew Cross

Gophers associate head coach Mike Guentzel bangs his melon on the Plexiglas behind the bench as his power play unit ignores the shot and maneuvers for a better look at the net.
Even the fans in Mariucci Arena’s section 14 scream, “Shoot! Shoot!” but the players hesitate, then pass.
It seems so simple, almost instinctive: Just shoot the puck. But a combination of inexperience and nerves kept the Gophers’ power play from producing respectable numbers again this weekend against Minnesota-Duluth.
Last week against St. Lawrence and Ohio State, the Gophers scored only one goal in 15 power plays but had plenty of shots on goal.
Guentzel, who coaches the power plays and the forwards, was frustrated this weekend because he said the Gophers had trouble even getting a shot off with a man advantage.
The power play statistics back up Guentzel’s concerns:
ù The Gophers managed just 17 shots on 16 power plays over the weekend.
ù They had 14 shot attempts on the power play that were blocked by the Bulldogs’ penalty kill unit.
ù They scored on two of 16 power plays this weekend, which makes them three for 31 (9.6 percent) on the season. Ideally a team wants to be around 25 percent.
Guentzel said part of the problem is players are not doing what they were coached to do. He added that the Gophers will probably spend four days of practice this week working on the power play.
“We go over what we want to do, but guys just do what they want out there,” the fifth-year coach said. “I want to say we were better this week, but when you average one shot a power play, that’s no good. Our timing is not good, and our execution is even worse.”
Senior forward Reggie Berg, who along with Wyatt Smith has been a fixture on the Gophers power play for more than a year, said the new players on the unit (freshmen defensemen Jordan Leopold and Nick Angell) are still trying to get comfortable.
Berg said those players will start making better decisions once they get better acclimated to the college game.
“There’s some cause for concern, but it’s getting there,” Berg said. “It just takes time for the new guys to adjust. This is a different power play than these guys are used to in high school.”
Guentzel said some players might be afraid of getting their shots blocked near the blue line, which can turn into a short-handed breakaway — like it did Saturday, when the only thing standing between the Bulldogs and a tie game was a nifty stick save by goalie Adam Hauser.
So the key is to get more aggressive on the power play. Senior defenseman Bill Kohn said right now the unit is coming out slow and not setting the tempo like it should. Part of that, Kohn said, is because of nerves.
The Gophers can at least take solace with the fact that UMD’s power play is worse than theirs. Bulldogs coach Mike Sertich said there’s not one returnee on his current power play unit. And it showed.
UMD managed only nine shots in 16 power play chances over the weekend. On Saturday, the Bulldogs totaled three shots in nine power plays. They also had two-man advantages for a total of 2:26 and failed to get a shot on goal.
Though Sertich’s problems seem more urgent, his solution is very familiar.
“Shoot,” he said. “You don’t get extra points for passing. Both (Gophers) goalies are untested; we should have been shooting from the concession stands.”