The Omaha power play was the most effective in college hockey coming into Saturday with a 35 percent conversion mark that spiked high above rivaling power plays following a Friday night excursion that included four man-advantage scores.
In the second period Saturday, it was two consecutive power-play scores that got the Mavericks back into a game in which they trailed by three in the third period, but they failed to convert on a third power play in the final period and took a late penalty themselves, falling 3-2 to the No. 2 University of Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs.
“I don’t think the better team won tonight,” Omaha coach Dean Blais said. “I thought we outshot them, 2-1. Scott Sandelin even said that — good friend, he’s not going to lie to me — he thought we carried the play to them and they were opportunistic.”
Following Friday’s outlier of a game, Duluth sat toward the bottom among other teams in penalty killing statistically at No. 44 of 60. However, they entered the weekend with the second-best NCHC penalty-killing squad behind Denver. Sandelin didn’t find many issues when he referenced the game film.
“Truthfully, we watched the Friday game and for the most part we thought our structure was pretty good,” Sandelin said. “We missed some detail things, but corrected some things early on and until the third period I thought we were doing a pretty good job.”
For a moment Saturday, it appeared that Omaha’s man-advantage success had been stunted, as the Bulldogs held Omaha scoreless through two periods, which included three penalty kills, and scored a short-hander on one of them to push their lead to two.
In the third period, the Mavericks scored on consecutive power plays to crawl within one, extending their streak of scoring a power-play goal every game thus far in 2016. As lucrative as the special-teams scoring has been, the five-on-five goal production suffered over the weekend.
“We haven’t generated a lot on five-on-five,” Blais said. “The power play has been really good and saved our bacon, but we had more five-on-five opportunities tonight than we did last night I think.”
When it mattered the most, UMD was able to shut it down, but perhaps the biggest difference-maker defensively was goaltender Hunter Miska. The netminder weathered a hectic first period that included 16 Omaha shots and held the Bulldogs in a game where they were outperformed otherwise.
“He’s had some great nights for us; tonight, thank God, he was the one who was really in it in the first period,” Sandelin said. “Throughout the game I thought we was outstanding and made some key saves even when it was 3-2. Sometimes the goalie needs to bail you out once in a while and tonight I felt he did that.”
Despite an up-and-down weekend stopping Omaha’s power play, Sandelin thinks the emphasis for improving leans more on limiting penalties rather than addressing the penalty kill.
“I think we have to take care of the penalties number one,” Sandelin said. “I’m not going to let one weekend have us start all over. The guys know what they’re supposed to do and early on we did a lot better job at blocking shots and contesting some areas and we just gave them too many opportunities.”
No. 8 North Dakota 3, No. 12 St. Cloud State 0
Cam Johnson made 36 saves and North Dakota notched a goal in every period as the Fighting Hawks achieved a road sweep over the Huskies. The series was their first pair of wins following a stretch of six winless games.
No. 18 Western Michigan 4, Air Force 1
The Broncos had 47 shots in the game to Air Force’s 19 and scored two straight in the second period to make it 3-1, icing the game with an empty-netter late in the third period for a 4-1 win.
No. 1 Denver 2, Miami 2
Ryan Siroky scored the equalizer at 15:51 in the third period for the RedHawks as Denver and Miami finished with a draw for the second consecutive night in Denver. After two scoreless overtimes, Denver got an extra point when Dylan Gambrell scored in the fourth round of a shootout. Denver fired 51 shots on Miami goaltender Ryan Larkin, who made 49 saves a night after making 38.