Friday, October 28, 2011

Special Teams Key When Bemidji Visits Duluth

Special Teams, Goaltending Favor Bemidji

It is not secret that UMD was sparked by their power play last season. Couple that with a better than decent penalty kill and we all know where that took the Bulldogs.

Fast forward to this season.

The power play has started to come around and be productive. After last weekend, the Bulldogs convert power plays at a 20% rate good for 16th in the nation. No reason to panic, in fact the rate is good and should get even better as the power play units get more chances.

The penalty kill has been a glaring low spot for this year’s Bulldog team. They are currently at a 70% kill rate which is not in the top 40 in the nation. That is an improvement from the 55% kill rate before last weekend’s series at Providence. That is not a misprint, 55% four games into the season. The current rate is bad, but looking at where the Bulldogs came from, it is a great improvement.

See all the stat comparisons in the HighHorse StatPack.
The test gets more difficult this weekend on both ends of the special teams. The most glaring mismatch is the 4th ranked BSU power play against the UMD kill. The Bulldogs will have their hands full especially since UMD averages 18.67 penalty minutes per game, eighth highest in the nation. Arguably, the series will be won and lost based n the UMD penalty kill versus the BSU power play.

You might think that UMD would have a chance to extract their own goals on power play because a 20% conversion isn’t bad. But the Beavers are a well disciplined team committing only 10 minutes per game on average.

Special teams are important this weekend as with any college hockey series. But with the way both teams are going, it likely could be the determining factor of the series.

The other factor that is a close second to special teams in determining the series will be goaltending. Bemidji seems to have it clicking while UMD is still trying to feel their way through.

Reiter has seemingly been deemed the number one, but likely not because of his play. Instead it is the lack of good play in the nets for back-up Aaron Crandall.

Crandall has played only one game, but it was a forgettable outing where he stopped only 78% of the shots he faced. Now that is only one game, but it must also be showing up in practice for Reiter to have the last four consecutive starts.

We said it last week and it applies here again, a Bulldog resurgence needs to start in goalie play. The late tying goals by opponents need to stop. The team must be able to trust themselves and their netminder that they can hold a one goal lead to the end.

Keep Shooting?  UMD has outshot their opponents in all six games this year, but are still 2-3-1.  The total shots on goal are UMD 221, Opponents 158.  The Bulldogs need to start burying those shots or keep the fewer shots faced out of the net.  Better yet, do both!

Prediction. This will be the weekend that UMD comes out in their building and wins a series. Now we don’t see a sweep occurring, but UMD will take three points from the Bemidji.

Around the WCHA. Besides the UMD – BSU series, there are four league series and one non-conference set.

Denver at Michigan Tech: Denver comes in playing really good hockey and shouldn’t really have a problem in Houghton. Tech is trying to regain their magic before they fall into a downward spiral like last year. Home cooking for the Huskies won’t be enough as the Pioneers sweep.

Saint Cloud State at North Dakota: This is a bad weekend for SCSU to get the Sioux. UND will be ready to make a statement and they will with a sweep at home against a struggling Huskies team making their WCHA season debut.

Nebraska – Omaha at Wisconsin: These are two teams that have Jekyll/Hyde problems this season. Both teams are coming off of home sweeps, but inconsistency still reigns. This series will end in a split.

University of Minnesota – Twin Cities at Alaska – Anchorage: The Gophers aren’t invincible as demonstrated in a home loss to Vermont last Sunday. It was the Gophers first loss and first goals given up this season at home. Anchorage has shown they are formidable in Alaska and that is why this series will be a split.

Colorado College at RPI: We still strongly believe that the Tigers are the best of the WCHA and they will have little trouble dispatching RPI in New York.

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