The UConn men’s hockey game plan this weekend? “Go online”
At the start of the season, UConn men’s hockey scored first in its first four games. But since the winter break, the Huskies have allowed the first goal in each of their four return games. As a result, they are only 1-3-0 down to start the new year.
Head coach Mike Cavanaugh has a simple solution to the problem, however.
“Hit the net,” he said. “You’re not going to score any goals if you miss the net.”
As basic as it sounds, UConn struggled to put the puck on goal in the second half — a problem that started in the first period of Game 1 against Harvard. The Huskies came out with great energy and a solid forecheck, but needed 12 minutes to register their first shot on net and only had two in the first period.
While UConn recovered with a 23-shot flurry in the second period, it again took seven minutes to get its first shot in the third period. The Huskies ultimately lost 6-3.
In the loss to AIC, UConn took 25 shots but blocked 19 more attempts. Every time the Huskies got a decent look on goal, the Yellow Jackets seemed to either put a stick on the puck or throw a body in front to get it away.
Most recently, UConn scored just one goal in a loss to Boston University despite setting up scoring opportunities for the full 60 minutes. The Huskies put themselves — and the puck — in dangerous places, but often shot it high or wide.
“I think we had five opportunities in A-level areas where we missed the net,” Cavanaugh said. “When you hit the net, you force the keeper to make a save and then there’s a rebound opportunity. When you miss the net, there is no shot on goal. When you hit the net, it might be two shots on goal, maybe three shots on goal. This is how you continually wear down teams.
In general, Cavanaugh prefers to manufacture the offense by creating rebounds, looking away from the goalie or getting tips and redirects – which is sustainable if done well. Whenever UConn struggles on offense in a season, those are the things the coach preaches to his team.
Relying solely on the game of skill — picking a spot and hitting it, trying to deke the goalie — is a dangerous way to live, as UConn learned in the second half.
“Sometimes it’s just too cute,” he said when asked why his team missed the net so much. “When you’re not scoring goals, a good mindset is to shoot five holes. If you miss five holes, you’ll probably hit a pad. But when you go to the top corner and you miss, it’s out of the glass and it’s out of the zone.
If recent history is any indication, UNH is the perfect antidote to the Huskies’ offensive woes. In their last six meetings, UConn have scored at least six goals on four occasions, including an 8-3 victory on Jan. 16 last season, the most goals scored by a UConn team in two and a half years.
But that’s another Wildcats team. They’ve won five games in a row and haven’t allowed more than two goals in any game during that span. In fact, UNH hasn’t allowed more than three goals since a 4-1 loss at Northeastern on Nov. 6.
Senior goaltender Mike Robinson plays an important role there. His goals-against-average of 2.14 ranks him 14th in the country and his save percentage is .916. Last season, he single-handedly led the Wildcats past UConn with a 36-save performance during which he made a handful of acrobatic saves.
“He goes very well from post to post. He has a large size which he anticipates. Does a good job blocking, making the first save and controlling his rebounds,” Cavanaugh said of Robinson. “When you have chances to score, you have to make them count.”
With a total of two goals in its last two games, the Huskies have not made their chances lately. That has to change this weekend if they plan to turn things around and get back into the win column.
It starts with scoring first. UConn is 6-3-0 when taking the first lead but 3-6-0 when moving behind. If he can get ahead early, it will relieve a struggling attack. Then the Huskies have to put the puck in the net to make life more difficult for Robinson instead of sending him everywhere outside the goal frame.
UConn has too many quality forwards to have any attacking problems. But to light up the scoreboard, the Huskies must first go back to basics.
“Hit the net.
UConn will be without first-year forward Chase Bradley on Friday after he was suspended one game for a first-period incident against Boston University last Friday.
That’s the game. The broadcast camera doesn’t quite capture what happened, but it looks like Bradley hit a high BU player on his way down the ice. pic.twitter.com/whvBNtk2EJ
— Daniel Connolly (@DanielVConnolly) January 17, 2022
Bradley, who scored the tying goal in the game, has two goals and two assists in 18 games this season.
How to watch
Dated: Friday January 21 | Saturday January 22
Time: 7:05 p.m. (Friday), 4:05 p.m. (Saturday)
Site: XL Center, Hartford, Connecticut
TV: NESN+ (Saturday)
Radio: UConn Sports Network (Saturday)