Myers: Gophers run into trouble when power play offense goes missing
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MINNEAPOLIS - You can win hockey games with a great power play. This the Gophers have proven so far this season. But what happens when you can't win hockey games without it?
In recent wins over Minnesota State and Alaska Anchorage, the power play supplied all of the goals. In recent ties with Alaska Anchorage and a severely undermanned Wisconsin team on Friday night, the lack of power play, or any consistent five-on-five offense, has meant trouble.
The final was a 2-2 overtime tie with the Badgers, who already were missing their top veteran forward due to injury, and their top incoming freshman forward due to a NCAA-mandated suspension. Then, during the game, both of coach Mike Eaves' top line wings were ejected for major penalties, and Wisconsin collected 40 minutes in penalties (to just 10 for Minnesota).
But this tasty recipe for a blowout win by the Gophers lacked a few key ingredients, and the resulting dish was bitter, for the most part. There was consistent traffic in front of the Wisconsin net, and 43 shots sent toward Badgers goalie Landon Peterson, and none of that resulted in a win.
"We had zone time, but you've got to find a way to thread a puck through, especially when they pack it in," said Gophers coach Don Lucia. "I think we can do a good job of maybe trying to take away the goaltender's eyes and find a way to get a puck through."
Not that pucks aren't getting to the opponent's net, or at least close by. The goalposts got a workout on both sides of Peterson, but again, none of that sound and fury signified anything when the horn sounded after 65 minutes. Lucia admitted that the on-going absence of second-line forward Sam Warning - out for the past few weeks with an undisclosed injury - has thrown a wrench into the team's offensive continuity.
"I don't think there's any question that has disrupted what we thought our top nine was going to be," Lucia said. "Now we're searching, and nobody has gone up there and said 'this is my spot' yet."
There was little joy on the red side of the arena's doldrums either, where Eaves saw his team play perhaps its most determined game of the season, and still come away with only a point. While carefully choosing his words when asked about the lopsided power play numbers (and admitting he had requested a meeting with the WCHA's supervisor of officials to get some things clarified), Eaves did admit some disappointment in his team's propensity for finding its way to the penalty box when facing Minnesota's usually-lethal power play.
"We talked about it, and it's an amazing thing that the guys are very much aware of it and yet we're still trying to play a physical game and we get penalized for such," Eaves said.
Still, he talked about his team being resilient, clawing it's way through the mess of the past few weeks, and the on-ice messes faced on Friday, to find a way to tie a stronger, healthier opponent on the road. The Badgers are now 1-4-2, while Minnesota is 6-2-2, yet the home team was the one feeling like opportunities were missed.
"We had chances. We've got to bear down and put them in the back of the net," said Gophers forward Zach Budish, who scored his team's first goal - a rare five-on-five goal. "You've got to beat teams five-on-five. You can't rely on your power play. Two goals in the last three games five-on-five is not what it needs to be."
Well, it's enough for a tie, at home. But for this Gophers team, that's just not enough at all.