ORONO — The University of Maine men’s hockey team is addressing a special teams issue.
The Black Bears are taking too many untimely penalties and aren’t drawing enough penalties.
Maine has not had more power plays than its opponent in a game in its last nine games. Opponents have had more power plays six times and they’ve had the same number of power plays on three occasions.
“It feels like the other team is getting double the amount (of power plays) every night and it’s tough to win like that,” said Maine senior center and co-captain Brian Flynn.
Opponents have gone 12-for-49 on the power play to Maine’s 7-for-33 showing in that span.
Maine is 1-3-2 in games in which the opponent has had more power-play chances.
Maine was able to salvage a 2-2 overtime tie at UMass on Friday, snapping its four-game losing streak, thanks to a perfect penalty kill (7-for-7) and a power-play goal on one of its three chances.
“It’s pretty evident that we’ve got to work harder to draw more penalties,” said senior left wing Spencer Abbott. “We’ve got to get the puck in (the opponents’) end a lot more, get the puck down low and draw penalties on their defensemen like they’ve been doing to us.”
Senior defensemen Ryan Hegarty said the players need to move their legs more.
“We’ve got to gain more respect from the referees. We’ve got to make them notice how much of a hard-working team we are,” he said. “They gauge how hard a team works and (that can determine) if they deserve a call or not.”
Junior right wing Joey Diamond added, “We need to work harder on getting to the net, making them pull us down, and we need to be tougher to play against in the corners.”
Maine was 22nd among the nation’s 58 teams in average penalty minutes per game but 33 minutes at UMass increased its average to 16.7 per game which is 10th highest.
However, what has been more problematical is the timing of the penalties.
Twice, Maine had a chance to break a tie on a power play in the final six minutes of regulation only to take an immediate penalty that resulted in a four-on-four on which the opponent scored the game-winner.
“The timing of our penalties has been real poor this year,” said Abbott. “We’re not going to be very successful if we keep taking seven or eight penalties a game. We have to eliminate that.”
Junior defenseman and assistant captain Mike Cornell added, “I think once we get a little stressed out, we play a little tighter and one thing leads to another and penalties start to snowball on us.”
Diamond, who leads the team with 47 penalty minutes, including a five-minute major in overtime against UMass, admitted that he has taken some penalties at the “totally wrong time.”
But he said he’s working on it as is the team.
“Hopefully, by going through it now, we won’t take those penalties later in the season,” he said.
Abbott noted that mounting penalties can create other problems, too.
“You’ve got guys sitting on the bench for four, five, six or seven minutes (without playing due to the penalties) and they can definitely lose their focus. Then you call on them and expect them to produce. It’s tough” said Abbott. “We’ve got to be more focused under pressure (and not take penalties).”
Maine’s top line producing
Maine’s first line of Abbott, Flynn and Diamond, comprised of the team’s top three returning scorers among forwards, has been productive despite facing the opponents’ checking lines and top defense tandems every night.
Flynn (5 goals, 10 assists), Abbott (5 & 8) and Diamond (6 & 5) are the team’s leading scorers and at least one of them has scored in eight of the 11 games to date. They have scored two or more goals five times and are among Hockey East’s top 21 scorers.
“I think we’ve played pretty well but we can be better,” said Abbott. “Once we get a little deeper in the season, we’ll read off each other (better) and there will be a little more chemistry.”
He acknowledged that it has been “tough,” particularly going up against the opponents’ top defense pair but it’s easier at home because Maine coach Tim Whitehead gets the last line change and can put them out against vulnerable lines and defense tandems.
“Coach does a good job matching us up at home on icings (when the opponent can’t change personnel) and things like that,” said Flynn. “But if all three of us come to play, it shouldn’t matter who we play against.
“We’ve been pretty good but we can be better,” Flynn added. “As long as we’re solid defensively, the goals will come.”
Diamond said they have been a bit inconsistent.
“We’re three motivated players and competitors who want to score and make things happen for our line and our team,” he said. “Playing against checking lines is only going to make us stronger individually and as a line.”
Whitehead said the line has done a “great job” with the exception of a couple of tough games “in which they tried to do too much.
“They’ve just got to trust their teammates and cut their shifts shorter,” he said.