Maine power play needs boost

Posted Nov. 22, 2010, at 9:07 p.m.

Last season, the University of Maine men’s hockey team had the nation’s best power play at 27.7 percent.

But the Black Bears have struggled mightily with the man advantage of late capped by an 0-for-12 showing in 4-0 and 4-1 losses at Boston College over the weekend.

Maine’s power play has converted on just 3 of its last 35 attempts (8.6 percent) and is now operating at 18.8 percent (16-for-85) on the season, 21st in the country. The Black Bears have also surrendered four shorthanded goals.

Maine is just 2-for-11 on five-on-threes.

The loss of junior defenseman Will O’Neill to a knee injury on the first shift of the Boston University game on Nov. 6 has played a role in the power play’s demise, and Maine senior defenseman Jeff Dimmen re-injured his ankle on the opening shift of the second period in Friday night’s game at Boston College and didn’t play again in the series.

O’Neill had 22 of his 31 points on the power play a year ago (6 goals, 16 assists) and Dimmen had 17 of his 30 points with the man advantage (6 & 11).

O’Neill had three power-play assists in eight games this season and Dimmen had a power-play goal and assist in 11 games. Each has five points overall.

“There’s no doubt we miss O’Neill and Dimmen. They’re our top two power-play defensemen,” said Maine coach Tim Whitehead. “That’s a big void. O’Neill quarterbacks a power-play unit, and Dimmen is one of our shooters from the point. They were together on one unit last year and at the start of this season. But we split them up.”

O’Neill manned the point with left wing Spencer Abbott on the other point while Dimmen was paired with Josh Van Dyk.

Whitehead said he doesn’t expect either to return until after Christmas, so “we’re going to have to adjust.”

“We still have enough skill and shooting ability to have a pretty decent power play. We’ll try some different combos and personnel,” said Whitehead.

One option mentioned by Whitehead is sophomore defenseman Nick Pryor, who appeared in six games last year but missed most of the season with a hip injury that required offseason surgery. He has yet to play this season.

Junior right wing Gustav Nyquist said the Bears need to “get more pucks to the net” on the power play.

“We’ve got to focus on the simple things. We’ve got to keep the puck moving, get traffic in front and keep our shots low so we can bang home some rebounds,” said Abbott. “We’ve been shooting high and getting our shots blocked.”

“We’re confident in our power play. We’ll get it going,” predicted sophomore right wing Joey Diamond.

Whitehead also said they need to do a better job screening the goalies.

The penalty-killing has been worse, operating at 79.1 percent efficiency, which is 42nd among the nation’s 58 Division I schools.

“We’re going to need some guys to emerge (up front) on the penalty kill,” said Whitehead, who noted that departed David deKastrozza, Brett Carriere and Kevin Swallow were valuable penalty-killing forwards last season, and one of their top penalty-killing forwards, Theo Andersson, has missed the last six games with a groin pull.

“We’re going to need some guys (forwards) to elevate their games,” said Whitehead who has tried a number of different players up front.

Maine has the weekend off before returning to action at Providence College for a two-game set on Dec. 3-4.

He said he is hoping to have Andersson back for that series.

Maine hopes to build on positives

Whitehead said despite the two losses at BC, there were some positives. Maine outshot BC 71-47 in the two setbacks only to run into a hot goaltender in senior John Muse.

“It was a frustrating weekend, but we’ll get past it,” said Whitehead. “Muse certainly made the difference both nights for them. We outchanced them (scoring chances) both nights. We generated a lot of offense five-on-five. We showed a lot of courage in the second game. We were very physical. There was no quit in the team. We gained some experience.”

“We can take a lot from what we did on Sunday. If we can bring it like that every night, we’ll be really successful,” said Abbott.

“We’ve been through adversity before,” said Nyquist. “Look back on the Michigan State weekend. We obviously bounced back real strong,” said Nyquist referring to two wins over North Dakota that triggered a 5-0-1 stretch prior to the BC series.

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