Minneapolis, MN – It’s been two steps forward, one step back for this Gopher team since the Christmas break.
Minnesota played some great games in January, racking up four regulation wins, one overtime win, and two exhibition wins over the month. However, it’s the recent losses (two in regulation, one in OT) that are leaving a sour taste in the mouths of fans, and are hampering the team when it comes to their Pairwise ranking.
Case in point last weekend, the Gophers (13RW-9RL-2OTW-2OTL Overall, 9-4-1-2 B1G) were dominant against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, controlling vast swaths of possession and generally passing the eye test against another NCAA hopeful. While Minnesota strolled to a relatively easy win on Friday, they struggled scoring goals on Saturday, needing a third-period goal to tie and not finding any more throughout regulation, going to the overtime tied at 2 and losing in the 3×3 extra session.
In each of their losses since the break, the Gophers have scored less than 3 goals. With the biggest concern over the past few weeks being the team’s goaltending under new starter Justen Close, it’s actually goal scoring that has emerged as the most troubling part of the team’s game.
Offense could be harder to come by in the month of February, as the team’s most consistently dominant scorers Ben Meyers and Matthew Knies will be in Beijing playing on the US Olympic team. It’s up to the rest of this relatively veteran forward corps to step up the scoring, with a lot riding on the shoulders of upperclassmen Sammy Walker, Blake McLaughlin, and Bryce Brodzinski. Walker in particular has not been as effective offensively as his career numbers would suggest, and if the Gophers want to stay in the race for the Big Ten regular season title, they’ll need the senior captain firing on all cylinders.
The first test for the Olympic-less Gophers is this weekend, where Minnesota welcomes Michigan State to Mariucci Arena. The Gophers beat the Spartans twice in early January (Jack LaFontaine’s last two games) at Munn Ice Arena in East Lansing, but the Minnesota team that laces up the skates in February looks a lot different than the one that outscored the Spartans 10-4 over a two-game series just a few weeks ago.
Coverage of the weekend series is on Bally Sports North, while Wally Shaver can be heard calling the game on the usual radio homes for the Gophers, AM1130 / FM103.5.