Friday Recap

The book is out on the 2010-11 Minutemen.  It says if you play physical and push them off the puck they’ll be unlikely to adjust their game accordingly and a victory is likely.  We saw this last Friday in Vermont, the first time they faced Northeastern, the two games out in Wisconsin, and the game in Orono to close out the first semester.  It’s unfortunate because those losses against UVM, Northeastern, and Maine all came in games absolutely critical to UMass’ chances to make a move in the standings and each time they’ve come up short.

This is a very talented and skilled team, don’t get me wrong, but they’re lacking a key element to their game.  I think part of it is the pure makeup of the team and the lack of a guy like Scott Crowder or Alex Berry to battle through the clutching and grabbing as well as keep the opposing team honest in their interactions with our smaller guys.  This is obviously a product of recruiting and hopefully will be rectified in future classes.  But I think another part of it is will.  It’s apparent that the team wants to go out and play their game, built upon speed and puck movement and skate circles around their competition.  And against some opponents they can do that.  But it’s obvious that the Northeastern defense is too good to allow such things.  And there’s a good chance they’ll find the same skill level on the blueline with Maine, Boston College, and Boston University.  All teams they’ll be facing shortly.  If UMass wants to be successful in February, they have to figure out how to put their head down and fight through the checks, maintain puck possession entering the offensive zone, and battle for the puck along the boards.  And all that starts tonight in the final game with the Huskies.  If they can’t adjust their game accordingly, February, the shortest month, is going to feel extremely long for the team and us fans.

That’s not to say that didn’t have chances to put goals on the board and even find a way to win last night, despite the first ten minutes of the game which was completely dominated by Northeastern.  UMass came around and had some good scoring chances.  In fact I counted at least three times when UMass had Husky goaltender Chris Rawlings down and out of the play and each time they either missed the open net or had their shot blocked.  This team still has not found a finisher.  No one has yet to step with that killer instinct and bury the puck when the opportunity is before them.  I’m not sure if there is someone like that on the team, even though some of these guys put up huge goal-scoring numbers in juniors, but until they find one they’re going to continue to lose these close defensive contests.

And on that note, I thought the defense played pretty well.  Paul Dainton came up with some big saves early to keep the Huskies off the board and the Minutemen in the game.  Though it really is time to bungee cord him to his own posts as for the second game an easy opponent goal was somehow avoided due to Dainton’s wandering when Northeastern hit a post with him off in the corner somewhere.  There were some key defensive lapses, Doug Kublin’s misplay of a puck he tried to glove which unfortunately led to the first goal being one of them.  But overall the Minutemen fared well against the Northeastern offense and even guys like Darren Rowe and Joel Hanley came up with some huge plays when needed.

Immediate adjustments going into tonight’s game, beyond finding a way to suddenly play physical, are faceoffs and the power play.  UMass got absolutely manhandled in the faceoff circle, winning just 14 of 53 chances.  That’s a 26% success rate for those scoring at home.  In a game where puck possession was already critical with Northeastern continually disrupting entry into the offensive zone, the lack of faceoff success put UMass at a huge disadvantage all night.  That type of performance in the circle frankly cannot happen for them to win.  Same goes for the power play.  Against a team with as tough a defense as Northeastern’s, which also has a guy like Rawlings in net, you can’t manage a meager four shots on four power plays.  The extra man is one of the few ways to crack this good defense and UMass didn’t come anywhere near to a power play goal last night.  In fact they almost gave up a shorthander.  One bright spot on the power play was the return of Adam Phillips whose slapshot adds another weapon.  Hopefully they can put it to better use tonight.

If there was a silver lining to last night it’s that Providence and Vermont both lost, meaning UMass kept their place in the standings relative to those two.  But 6th place is quickly fading into the distance with Northeastern pulling ahead by 5 points and picking up the tiebreaker over UMass with last night’s win.  If the Minutemen have any desire to move up from their current place in the Hockey East standings it begins or ends tonight.  A win and UMass pulls to within striking distance at three points back with two games in hand on the Huskies.  A loss and Northeastern is now 7 points ahead and likely puts UMass in their rearview for the rest of the season.  Is this team going to be satisfied with 7th place finish at best this season?  I would hope not.  But to do any better they need to give it their all and FIND a way to win.  It doesn’t have to be pretty.  It doesn’t have to be dominant.  It just has to be one more goal than the other team.

Fear The Triangle Player of the Game – Conor Allen
I thought this was perhaps Allen’s best game as a Minuteman, playing good overall defense and coming up with some key hits on Husky forwards.  His -1 rating was the result of the Northeastern empty net goal.  All the freshmen on defense have been making good strides with their play on the blue line.

Dick Baker also talks about UMass’ lack of finishers in his game story.

As they have all week, NESN is extremely happy to point out that the Minutemen have yet to beat Chris Rawlings.

The Herald has their recap of the “throttling”.

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