No.5 Merrimack Warriors (19-5-4(13-5-3HEA)) vs. UMass Minutemen (6-16-5(5-11-5HEA))
The last time these two teams met, Merrimack beat UMass 11-2. That’s it; that’s the preview.
Okay, not really. The Warriors come into Amherst last night winners of their last 5 and 11 of their last 12. They are currently riding the longest hot streak of, well, their entire existence. This is a team that has beaten every other Hockey East team, except, somehow, for Providence. UMass has only beaten 2. This is a team that, in Hockey East play, scores 3.48 goals per game and allows only 2.19. The +1.29 goal differential is 3rd best in Hockey East, behind only the two teams who are ahead of Merrimack in the standings. (This number is slightly inflated due to aforementioned 11-2 win.)
It feels essential that I should mention that superstar Warrior forward Stephane Da Costa (13G/23A/36Pts) may be out with a knee injury. But, that might give some the hopes that Merrimack will somehow roll over for the Minutemen this weekend. To those who would think this I just have two things to say. 1) The Da Costa-less Warriors beat UNH last weekend. 2) Merrimack has 13 other players with double-digit point totals this season; 13! And this 13 includes senior forwards Chris Barton (12G/20A/32Pts) and Joe Cucci (10G/20A/30Pts). It also includes juniors Jesse Todd (15G/10A/25Pts) and Karl Stollery (5G/16A/21Pts) and freshman Mike Collins (9G/11A/20Pts). That’s right, Merrimack has 3 30-point scorers and 6 20-point scorers and 13 10-points scorers. How does UMass compare? Zero, 3, and 8, respectively. (In case you’re wondering, the 3 20-point scorers for the Mass Attack are: Mike Pereira (10G/12A/22Pts), Danny Hobbs (8G/14A/22Pts), and TJ Syner (7G/14A/21Pts).)
Junior Warrior goalie Joe Cannata (19-5-4, 2.11GAA, .923save%), the pride of Wakefield, MA, has evolved into a very solid netminder. In contrast, it would appear that senior UMass captain Paul Dainton (6-11-4, 2.94GAA, .908save%) has put his best years behind him. It’s not really fair to blame Dainton, as his best years were certainly behind a much stronger team, especially defensively, but it still seems that he doesn’t make all the stops he used to anymore.
Special teams numbers for Merrimack are certainly respectable. The power play has a 19.3% success rate in Hockey East play while the penalty kill is successful 87.2% of the time. UMass special teams, on the other hand, have been atrocious. The penalty kill success rate for the Mass Attack in Hockey East action sits at a below average, but not terrible, 80.4%. The power play, on the other hand, is just downright awful. A 10.4% success rate in conference play is simply unacceptable. It’s good to hear that Toot has finally acknowledged that the power play woes need to be systemically corrected, and aren’t simply the product of a young team needing to figure it out. I , for one, cannot understand why Toot got away from playing Darren Rowe on the wing during the power play. Does anyone else remember this? At the beginning of the year, Toot featured Rowe on the wing during the power play and he netted 3 power play goals in the first 5 games. Well, that worked well, so we went away from it. But more than anything else, there is one fundamental problem with the power play and it is this: lack of movement. Power plays are about creating odd man situations and making goalies have to think about who is going to shoot the puck. This means good passing and this means MOVEMENT WITHOUT THE PUCK. I cannot emphasize this enough. You must move your body when you don’t have the puck in order to create mismatches and make the PK unit move and make mistakes. The way the UMass power play works, it’s 1 guy skating around with the puck a bunch and 4 guys just standing and watching. Then, there is a pass… to a man who is covered perfectly by a PK guy because he has been standing still the entire fucking time. They repeat this process several times until, eventually, the puck is cleared or someone takes a bad shot. AM I THE ONLY ONE WHO FUCKING NOTICES THIS?! I feel like I’m taking crazy pills over here. MOVE WITHOUT THE PUCK AND YOU WILL SCORE POWER PLAY GOALS. That is all.
And, that being said, special teams will be a key to this game. The 5-on-5 game has looked pretty good of late, the power play just needs to get its head out its ass. Special teams and not letting the opponent score early. BU scored just 1:09 into the game last weekend then took a 2-1 lead into the first intermission and, guess what, we lost. UMass has not won a game this year when trailing after one period and has only won one game when giving up the first goal (Record: 1-12-3 when giving up first goal). So, those are the keys: good special teams play, score first, don’t trail at the end of one. Do that, and there’s a fighting chance. Don’t and, well… this happens.