Special teams playing a big factor
After struggling on the power play in losses during winter break, the Massachusetts hockey team has played consistently on special teams in the past week and a half, resulting in three consecutive wins.
In their three losses over winter recess, the No. 15 Minutemen (14-8-0, 9-6-0 Hockey East) were outscored on the power play, 3-6. Despite having six more man advantage opportunities than its opponents, UMass went 3 for 19 on offense while the penalty kill allowed six goals in 13 attempts.
During their current three-game winning streak, the Minutemen have outscored opponents, 5-0.
UMass coach Don Cahoon knows that playing well on both the offensive and defensive side of the puck during penalties is important.
“Special teams and goaltending are critical factors, and will continue to be,” he said.
For the season, the Minutemen are 27 for 109 on the power play with a 24.8 percent conversion rate, ranking them third in the Hockey East behind Maine and Merrimack.
On the penalty kill, however, UMass sits seventh in the conference just ahead of New Hampshire, Maine, and Northeastern with an 80.7 success rate. The Minutemen have killed off 71-of-88 chances, tying them with the Wildcats for the least amount of power play opportunities given up.
“We have the talent to be able to execute in those situations,” Cahoon said. “We do pretty well on the penalty kill and certainly the power play has been one of the tops in the country all year long.”
This weekend, UMass will face a test in No. 17 Vermont (11-7-2, 5-6-2 HEA), which has had a near-automatic penalty kill as of late, wasting the last 40-of-42 opponent chances.
“Some teams play us real tough and if we’re not totally focused and we’re not executing the way we’re capable of, it can be neutralized and be the difference in the game,” Cahoon said.
In UMass’ second loss during its losing streak, which came at the hands of Boston University, goaltender Paul Dainton statistically had one of the worst games of his career.
Dainton, who previously made 39 saves while allowing two goals in a 3-2 win over then-No. 2 BU, struggled against the Terriers the second time around. BU pelted 29 shots on goal, scoring six times on Dainton with two goals coming in each period.
“With the BU game we kind of went in there and were just fighting the puck and just the team overall, we weren’t playing that great,” Dainton said.
Following that game, Dainton was given a day off as Dan Meyers faced similar difficulties in allowing seven goals in his start between the pipes against New Hampshire.
Dainton, though, rebounded well after his poor performance, leading the Minutemen to three straight victories. In the wins, he allowed a total of four goals while making 71 saves, with his best game coming at the Tsongas Arena in the second night of a home-and-home against then-No. 15 UMass Lowell.
As a junior, Dainton is still getting better, and knows he still has room for improvement.
“I’ve been working with my goalie coach, just a lot of mental work to work on different things and I can see a tremendous difference in it already.”
Jay Asser can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.