It’s a simple concept in hockey – if you don’t score goals you won’t win games.
Unfortunately, the Massachusetts hockey team is experiencing that first-hand as its scoring difficulties have led to a four-game losing streak.
The Minutemen (9-12-5, 5-10-4 Hockey East) have only scored 10 goals in the past four games (2.5 goals per game). During those games, they have failed to score more than three goals in a game.
What is most puzzling about UMass’ recent struggles is that it has outshot its opponents in three out of the last four contests, while tying Northeastern with 31 shots apiece in a 4-3 overtime loss Feb. 3 at Matthews Arena.
“I’m not sure if we know the issue but we’re definitely getting our chances,” said sophomore forward Conor Sheary. “We just have to find a way to score more with our chances.”
As Sheary said, the Minutemen have been getting their opportunities. They have outshot their opponents, 125-121, during their losing streak, but are being outscored 17-10.
“I think it’s a situation where we just have to be more thorough with our plays,” said sophomore forward Michael Pereira. “Stopping and starting in front of the net and just bearing down is really [it] what comes down to.
“Every team has times where you have trouble finding goals. It’s only been a few games so we’re not getting too serious about it just yet, but I’m sure we’ll figure it out,” Pereira added.
Averaging 3.2 goals per game on the season, UMass has had its share of games where scoring wasn’t an issue. The Minutemen have exceeded three goals in 12 of its 26 games this season, going 7-2-2 in the process, meaning they are just 2-10-3 mark when scoring three goals or fewer.
UMass has received offensive production from a number of different players throughout the season with 10 players reaching double-figures in points, highlighted by T.J. Syner (30 points), Sheary (28) and Pereira (23) who have all eclipsed the 20 point mark.
In the past four games, Syner, Sheary or Pereira was credited with a point in seven of the team’s 10 goals. At times, the Minutemen have become too dependent on these three to provide the offense.
“Offense is a huge part of my game as well as my line’s game,” said Sheary. “When we’re not scoring other lines are dependent on scoring, but if most of the scoring is coming from our line then we need to step it up a little bit.”
A competitive imbalance in the net has gone against UMass as well.
UMass has squared off against the two top-rated goalies in the Hockey East in three of the last four contests in UMass Lowell’s Doug Carr (17-4, 1.88 goals against average) and Merrimack’s Joe Cannata (14-6-5, 2.13 GAA)
With a goaltending carousel that includes sophomore Jeff Teglia (1-5-1, 3.32 GAA), freshmen Kevin Boyle (5-4-4, 3.15 GAA) and Steve Mastalerz (3-3, 3.08 GAA), there appears to be a lack of consistency that leaves coach Don Cahoon with uncertainty on what kind of results he should expect from his netminders.
“We haven’t had one guy assume that position,” said Cahoon. “I don’t know if they’re feeling the heat a little bit but it’s pretty intense in that locker-room as you might imagine.
“I’m sure [the goaltenders] have learned something and they’ve grown, but we need games where we can get wins off of their play,” Cahoon added. “It’s a tough situation. I’m trying to figure out who that guy is going to be that can give us big games and can be a backbone for some W’s.”
With a mere four weeks remaining in the regular season, the Minutemen are running out of time to find the consistency it is looking for.
“It’s almost like we’ve been through this so many times before,” said Pereira. “We’ve had a lot of adversity thrown our way. The only conclusion there is comes from working hard and we’ll find our way out of it, so I think that’s what we’re all doing.
“Time is ticking down,” Pereira added. “As we like to put it right now the heat is on for everyone. It starts with the seniors and works its way down to the freshman. If we commit ourselves for the final weeks then we’re going to see some results that may surprise people.”
Nick Canelas can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @MDC_Canelas.