These are the times that try fans’ souls. The summer supporter and the sunshine proponent will, in this crisis, shrink from the Huskies; but those that stand by Them Dogs now, deserve the love and thanks of the Husky Nation.
Failure, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives everything its value.
As the Old Dog wrote last week, MTU is now in the midst of the most critical stretch of games this season—and perhaps in any season in quite a few years. The outcome was, in a word, awful. In three games, the Huskies dominated the play in most ways and they got nothing in return.
The Statistical Picture
Against Lake Superior State on Tuesday, they outshot the Lakers 36-20. They made one unforced error and had one horrible bounce off a ref’s skate, and that led to LSSU’s only good chances in the first two periods. The Lakers scored on both of those plays. Tech had a goal disallowed for offsides that would have tied the game in the third period.
In the Friday game against Bemidji State, they again controlled the play, outshooting the Beavers by an astonishing 48-24 margin. They were tied 1-1 after two periods, and BSU’s goal was just one of those perfect shots from an odd angle that managed to find the far right top corner after a faceoff in Tech’s end. They had another goal waved off, this time for a high stick deflection. In the third period, the Huskies again had two unforced errors turn into goals.
Saturday was really the same story. BSU got an odd goal when Tyrell Buckley crashed into a Beaver in the crease and pushed both goalie Mark Sinclair and the puck into the net. Tech got a tying goal early in the third period, only to see Bemidji score on a wicked shot (and again after a relatively minor defensive lapse) about four minutes later. They again had the edge in shots on goal, 34-16.
Three games with 118 shots and only three goals in nine periods. And this came while holding their opponents to just 60 shots. If you discount the empty net goal against LSSU and the late BSU goal Friday, when the Huskies were focused much more on offense, they only yielded seven goals in those same nine periods.
That’s great defense and just mournful offense. And, as is often said, statistics are for losers.
What More Can Be Said?
There are a number of things that can be said about these games. First, the Old Dog wants to give a wag of the tail to coach Joe Shawhan for his public relations work after these games. While it was obvious that he was seething with disappointment and bubbling with emotions that were fighting to get out, he maintained his cool whenever speaking to the media. In fact, his post-game press conference was a mark of the growth he’s experienced as a head coach in his tenure at Tech.
Second, the Huskies are no longer getting the kind of unreal goaltending they got earlier in the season. That’s not to say that Blake Pietila or Mark Sinclair played badly; but they haven’t made the same kind of game-changing saves we grew used to in the first half of the season. Pietila in particular doesn’t seem to be exhibiting the same level of explosive reactions that led to highlight reel saves prior to Tech’s post-holiday COVID pause.
Finally, the Old Dog has a pet peeve that I want to air, and I think this one is critical. If you watched the games this week, very few of Tech’s scoring chances (and they had a ton—the advantage in quality chance counts in all three games was even higher than the shots-on-goal edge) occurred when the Huskies had serious traffic in front of the opposing goalies. Beaver Zach Driscoll will undoubtedly be the WCHA goaltender of the week after this past weekend, but he rarely (never, that I could see, in the first two periods on Saturday when I watched closely) faced any shots while he was bobbing and weaving behind a Tech forward just outside of the crease.
In fact, Tech’s only goal by Tommy Parrottino came when the Huskies were screening Driscoll, causing him to give up rebounds, one of which Parrottino put in the net. In the WCHA, where goaltending is Job 1 and defense is Job 1-A, you just won’t score many goals most nights unless you are breaking up the goalie’s view, causing him to move his head and shoulders constantly.
For the life of me, I don’t see why Tech’s staff can’t see this and do something about it. It’s very obvious if you watch. This isn’t just Shawhan’s “hard ice” idea, which includes crashing for rebounds. It’s something more, something that the forwards need to do to make crashing for garbage goals possible. Time after time, Driscoll and LSSU’s Marek Mitens just swallowed shots and didn’t leave much (Driscoll almost nothing) for the Huskies to touch in the “hard ice” area.
That level of rebound control is easy when you have a clear view of the shot coming your way.
Tech was winning a lot of the forechecking battles in the corners and behind the net, and then getting the puck back to the blueline or near the faceoff dots. Shots, good shots, poured in from these spots.
Did any of the forwards who won those hard battles then sprint to front the goalie? No. Instead they went to the high slot most of the time where defenders blocked passes and stick-checked the puck away. A few times, a forward coming out of the corner went to the net, but they positioned themselves on the side of the crease, hoping to get a stick deflection or an odd rebound, but without screening the keeper.
The Old Dog doesn’t pretend to know the game anywhere near the way that the Huskies’ coaches do. But this one seems important and obvious, particularly when Shawhan literally says, “You tell me” when he’s asked about Tech’s inability to score while getting tons of good shots on goal. So, as an amateur member of the media, as an armchair quarterback, I’m suggesting this is something that might help.
Tech has just five games left and they are all conference games. Tuesday afternoon, Lake State returns to the JMac. The following weekend will be the annual home-and-home series with Northern Michigan. On March 5-6, Tech travels to Mankato to wrap up the regular season against the big bad Mavericks.
If they don’t score more than five goals in those five games, they’ll end up in sixth place in the WCHA. For a team with the talent and promise this year’s roster has, I’d say that’s a failure.
The Old Dog, though, loyal as a Dog should be, will be watching every single contest from Texas, and I will not forget that “the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.”