Three Thoughts from 3M Arena at Mariucci
Minneapolis, Minn. — Minnesota ended a streak of splits and poor specialty team play with a pair of home wins over No. 9 Clarkson. The power play produced three goals on 10 opportunities and the penalty kill did its job on all four shorthanded situations.
Senior assistant captains Leon Bristedt and Mike Szmatula scored their first goals of the season, both on the power play, and junior goaltender Eric Schierhorn continued his strong play this season making 18 saves for No. 7 Minnesota (5-3-0, 1-1-0) for a 2-1 win in front of 7,971.
Gopher hockey fans are watching Don Lucia’s deployments on the man advantage this season with a critical eye. The unit was just 3 for 31 going into this weekend as he shuffled personnel and sets over the first three weekends.
Bristedt said they worked a lot on it this week and though it showed. The Swede felt they had enough chemistry on the units, but this weekend they were effective getting shots on net despite the Golden Knights tight box penalty kill that rarely opened up any seams to pass through.
Lucia said the units are still a work in progress and they rolled in a few different looks to use against a very good Clarkson penalty kill.
“We showed them some tape, to try and convince them, ‘you’re not going to seam them.’ We had to work it around and free yourself up for shot, or shoot for a rebound and outnumber them around the net,” Lucia said.
“Still we’re lacking some shooters in some key spots, but we just got to work with the guys we have and the way they shoot, just continue to work with what’s the best sets to put them in for them to be successful.”
The Gophers have a surplus of left-handed shooters, especially among their key pivots Casey Mittelstadt, Rem Pitlick, and Tommy Novak. It will be an ongoing challenge for the staff to figure out how to use their best personnel, and the Gophers second goal Saturday at the start of the second period is a good example of Pitlick and Mittelstadt creating number problems for their opponent by their movement and working the puck on their off wing.
Minnesota entered the weekend having given up 10 power play goals on 33 opportunities, one of the worst percentages in the nation. It was a glaring statistical deficiencies when you see a penalty kill in the sixties.
Lucia leaned heavily on Jack Ramsey and Darian Romanko during the weekend and tried putting his junior forwards out twice during kills on Saturday.
“They had been scored on a few times early, and they take it to heart, because they know that’s a big part of their role is penalty killing, and playing late game situations,” Lucia said. “I trust them. Even a number of times last night and tonight, they’re playing against their top line, and I’m perfectly comfortable with those guys playing against other people’s good players.”
The killers were also on the ice a lot less this weekend than the previous three weekends. During the North Dakota weekend they were short-handed 15 times. During Wednesday’s availability Ramsey said the team strived to keep themselves to three penalties or less. Mission accomplished against Clarkson taking just one on Friday and three on Saturday.
Lucia said the units were more aggressive, more connected, and made the right decisions when opportunities to apply pressures appeared.
Schierhorn made 18 saves on 19 shots for win Saturday, and stopped 44 of 46 shots in the series. The junior goaltender put a lot of pressure on himself last year to raise his game, raise his save percentage and lower his goals against. The result was pressing too much and being overactive.
This season, the Alaska native worked on his game the most he ever has in an off-season and the results are showing up on the ice. His current save percentage of .925 and goals against average of 2.13 are better than last year’s .908 and 2.61 numbers. And it hasn’t exactly been a cake schedule either as Minnesota has faced ranked teams every night so far this season.
“I do think we put a little bit too much pressure on ourselves at the beginning of the season,” Szmatula said. “But we’re finding our way and we’ve got a good nucleus, good leadership, and I think our goaltender’s been awesome and we’re starting to click here.”
Minnesota continues next weekend when Michigan State, who might be better than people thought, comes to Mariucci. The Spartans just swept Lake Superior St., split with Western Michigan, and split with Bowling Green.
Lucia said playing well is such a week to week deal and that while they feel good about winning a couple games in a row–the next weekend is always going to be really competitive and they have do everything they can to protect home ice.