Analysis: League points slipping away
NOTE: My apologies on not writing about the recent away games. The truth is with high school football on Fridays and Saturdays and excruciating early Sunday hours, I missed the St. Cloud and North Dakota series. With preps winding down I’ll be able to watch the team on the road the remainder of the season.
OXFORD, Ohio – Four league points have escaped Miami in its last two games because of three third period and overtime goals against.
Obviously that is a troubling trend, as the RedHawks and No. 6 Nebraska-Omaha played to a 3-3 tie at Cady Arena on Friday, although Miami did manage to pick up a second point with a 3-on-3 goal by sophomore defenseman Louie Belpedio.
Last Saturday, the RedHawks led late but surrendered an extra-attacker goal and another in overtime in a 4-3 loss at North Dakota.
Disturbing is that this is a veteran team, especially on the back end. Miami’s goalies are both seniors, and its defensemen are senior-senior-senior-junior-sophomore-sophomore-freshman.
The forwards are admittedly young, but are the freshmen up front really the root of this team’s inability to close out games, or for that matter the RedHawks’ sub-.500 start?
Jack Roslovic and Josh Melnick are the only two consistent scorers on this team right now, and the other regular rookies in the lineup are Ryan Siroky, Kiefer Sherwood and Zach LaValle, none of which have been a burden to Miami’s lineup and all look like candidates to have solid careers in Oxford.
Roslovic does carry the puck too much and the results sometimes aren’t good, but he’s 18 and he has eight of the team’s 28 goals this season, so the gain of him in the lineup is still a major positive (to further that point, he and Melnick have 13 of the team’s goals, nearly half).
Lack of scoring was a major factor the first 11 games – still is overall – but the RedHawks scored three goals in their last two games and have an 0-1-1 record to show for it.
The frustrating thing is that it hasn’t been a consistent weak link – poor goaltending, a shallow defense pool, forwards that don’t play both ways, a meager penalty kill, etc. (Miami has been good overall in all of those areas) – but the past two games, opponents are making big plays and Miami isn’t.
I’m sure I’m in the minority, but a 6-2 loss last Friday at North Dakota bothers me a lot less than a 4-3 overtime loss the next night or a blown late lead again this Friday.
Teams have bad nights, heck look at Western Michigan’s 11-1 loss at St. Cloud State last week. But the Broncos beat this UNO team twice on the road days before.
In a league as competitive as the NCHC, it’s the close games that are so important, and losing points the way Miami has is tough to watch, especially with a team like the RedHawks that everyone knew was going to depend on a veteran presence on defense and in net, meaning lots of low-scoring close games.
Miami did a solid job of winning those tight games against WMU two weeks ago, but against stiffer competition its last two games, the RedHawks have not measured up in the clutch.
The result: Four lost points in those contests.
Really it’s been a six-year trend, Miami snatching defeat from the jaws of victory too many times, and on a team that will play in a lot of 2-1 and 3-2 games the rest of this season, it just can’t afford to lose 4-3 the way it has the last two games.
The ultimate result was a tie on Friday, but the RedHawks played very well overall (maybe not so much the third period) against one of the best teams in college hockey.
Sean Kuraly didn’t score but looked a lot more confident than he had earlier in the season.
Like Kuraly, Belpedio has not played his best to start 2015-16 but was impressive in this game.
Grant Hutton is really stepping into the shut-down defenseman role.
Sherwood seems to get better every game.
The Crash Cousins were entertaining to watch, throwing around their combined 500 pounds of muscle.
Taylor Richart, Chris Joyaux and Matthew Caito are playing their best hockey on the blue line in their senior seasons.
Defenseman Scott Dornbrock played arguably his best game of the season.
The cliché about the process vs. the result should not be ignored, but still the process and simply playing well don’t earn teams NCAA Tournament berths, so Miami needs to still evolve and also win more.
– How about the power play? The RedHawks are 7-for-17 on the man advantage their last five games with at least one PPG in each. That’s even more impressive considering the caliber of Miami’s recent opponents and how young its top unit is. Actually both units. The RedHawks are now 24.0 percent on the power play.
– The PK is now 44 of 46 (95.7 percent) after another shut-down effort last night.
– So if Miami has an offense problem and has 12 power play goals, that must mean the team isn’t scoring at even strength. The RedHawks have 16 even-strength goals in 13 games, or 1.23 per contest. That’s really dreadful.
– Really hate to play the Debbie Downer role, but Miami celebrated the goal that isn’t really a goal by Belpedio as if it had won the Stanley Cup when in reality that goal likely means absolutely nothing. That is, unless the RedHawks move up a seed because of a one-point difference in the conference standings (in the bizarre coincidence department, the only two teams that finished a point apart in the NCHC standings last season were Miami and UNO, with the RedHawks taking the two seed by a point over the Mavericks).
One more time: It was a tie. And when a team is a game below .500 like Miami is and has a chance to beat one of the best teams in college hockey but squanders a late lead, it’s not a good night.
And really the overwhelming majority of fans just don’t get it, and while the 3-on-3 is great, minimizing shootouts is great (I would argue eliminate them, but that’s for another time), both are confusing and ultimately pointless from a standings perspective, no pun intended.
I get where the league was going with this, I really do, and it’s an admirable goal to have a winner and a loser each night. But when the extra action has so little meaning and confuses fans, it isn’t worth it.
So to recap: Belpedio scored but doesn’t get credit for a goal, Miami won the 3-on-3 but is credited with a tie (the scoreboard operator doesn’t get it either – erroneously listing the score as ‘4-3’ after Miami’s ‘goal’) and the RedHawks get an extra point in the league standings which has no impact on the infinitely more important NCAA record. Got that?
While uptown briefly last night multiple people saw our Miami hockey gear and asked what the RedHawks did. There was no way to explain this without confusing people. Hockey is already a tough enough game to pick up for the casual fan. The well-intentioned NCHC has made it even tougher.
In a perfect world, the NCAA would adopt the NCHC’s model so that post first-overtime play would have real meaning, but that body has made it clear that it does want games to deviate from 5-on-5 action at any point to decide games.
FORWARDS: B. Grades for all positions were tough to give in this game, since overall the team played very well but the result was a tie. Pretty much everything that needed to be said about this group was mentioned above.
DEFENSEMEN: B. Caito had a sweet goal and almost set up another, except Roslovic fanned on a cross-crease pass. Dornbrock really took a step forward, and Belpedio looked like Version 2014-15, which is a major compliment. This corps held UNO to 25 shots and recorded a goal of its own. Good effort by this group.
GOALTENDING: C-. Ryan McKay probably should’ve had the third goal, and he didn’t face a ton of difficult shots, other than the two that went in prior.
LINEUP CHANGES: LaValle is out with a suspected upper-body injury, and it’s unclear how long he’ll be out. Junior Devin Loe took his place in this game. Colin Sullivan was once again the odd man out on defense, sitting for the fourth time in five games.