ORONO, Maine — The University of Maine men’s hockey team’s power play has the second-best success rate in the country at 29.3 percent.
But the penalty-killing, which allowed eight power-play goals in 20 attempts during a four-game losing streak in November, has been noticeably better as of late.
It is currently at a 79.4 percent success rate which ranks 45th among 58 Division I teams.
However, it has killed off 15 straight and 16 of 17.
Maine has allowed more than one power-play goal in a game just twice over the last 14 games.
If you take out Merrimack’s 3-for-6 showing in the Warriors’ 6-2 victory on Jan. 13, Maine has killed 41 of 48 in the other 13 games for an 85.4 percent success rate.
One of the keys is the fact Maine has reduced its penalties, giving opposing teams three power plays or less in seven of its last 11 games.
Maine had been one of the nation’s top two penalized teams but the Black Bears are now sixth, averaging 17 penalty minutes per game.
“We’ve been a lot more disciplined,” said Maine senior center Brian Flynn. “We know teams are going to play disciplined against us so we can’t afford to give them a bunch of power plays. You can’t win games doing that.”
Senior defenseman Will O’Neill said Maine coach Tim Whitehead has “harped on” reducing their penalty minutes.
“The good thing is we haven’t taken any bad penalties in a long time,” said O’Neill who credited the turnaround to “maturity.”
“We’ve finally found that middle ground where we aren’t pressuring too much and we aren’t sitting back too much,” explained senior Ryan Hegarty who teams with junior Mark Nemec to comprise the team’s top penalty-killing defense tandem. “The guys have a lot of experience and know when to pressure and when not to. That has really helped.”
O’Neill said they have been smarter on the penalty kill.
“You try to get there if you can [to force a turnover] but, if not, just be smart. We’ve been reading off each other [well] and that has really worked for us,” he said.
Hegarty said the play of sophomore goalie Dan Sullivan has been crucial.
“Without a question, the goalie is the most important guy on the ice when the penalty kill happens,” said Hegarty. “And he has also been great handling dump-ins and stuff like that.
“The key is not letting them set up. If you can force them to make bad dump-ins, you’ll be able to clear the puck without them being able to set up,” he added.
Flynn said Sullivan has been “real solid.”
“He has made big stops when he’s had to. We’ve been blocking a lot of shots and when we’ve had the opportunity to clear the puck and kill 15 to 20 seconds, we’ve been doing a better job of it,” Flynn said.
There has been a lot of practice time devoted to perfecting the penalty kill according to senior left wing and assistant captain Spencer Abbott.
“Our power play has been clicking. So if we can get our penalty kill going like it has been and we can win the special teams battle, it gives us a great chance to win,” said Abbott.
Sullivan said taking penalties can change the momentum and it also prevents you from attacking.
He said the team’s “preparation” has been a key to their recent success as they have studied other team’s power play tendencies and tried to neutralize them as well as the key personnel.
He added that all of his teammates have been “willing to block shots, they’ve been eager to get in there and clear pucks out and there has been great communication. The guys have been working extremely hard. It’s great to see that.”
Beattie eyeing goal production
Black Bear junior center Kyle Beattie is having his most productive season with 23 points (4 goals, 19 assists) in 29 games. He had 18 points in 49 games during his first two seasons.
But he is looking to start putting more pucks in the net and is hoping Saturday’s goal and assist in the 2-1 win over UMass Lowell will jump-start his goal production.
It was his second goal in 24 games although both have come in his last eight games.
“I need to shoot more and get to the scoring areas in the front of the net rather than staying on the perimeter,” said Beattie, who is on a line with junior left wing Adam Shemansky and freshman right wing Andrew Cerretani and has 11 power-play assists. “You can’t just take one or two shots per game. You’ve got to get five or six.”
O’Neill said Beattie had been “snake-bitten lately” and feels his goal on Saturday will “relieve his stress and give him confidence that he can score.”
“When he works hard and gets to those hard areas [in front of the net], he can be a goal scorer,” said Hegarty. “He did that really well Saturday and it really paid off for him.”
Shemansky said the line has played well of late but hasn’t gotten the production they’ve wanted.
“We’re creating good opportunities. It’s just a matter of time before they start going in,” said Shemansky.