Doug McLeod blog: Gophers hockey insider – St. Lawrence

The Matchup: No. 19 Minnesota Golden Gophers (2-4-1, 1-1-0 Big Ten) vs. St. Lawrence University Saints (1-8-0, 0-2-0 ECAC), 3M Arena at Mariucci, Friday/Saturday nights (Friday, 7 p.m., FOX Sports North PLUS)

Recent history: Minnesota split at Wisconsin last weekend and has lost four of its last five games.

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St. Lawrence has managed only one win all season. That was also the only game to date in which the Saints lit the red light multiple times.

Key Stats: In their ongoing effort to get the new season on track, despite a strange schedule and an offseason coaching change, the Gophers split at Wisconsin last weekend. A 3-2 win Friday was sparked by an onslaught in which all Gopher goals were scored in a span of 74 seconds. That effort was followed by a 3-1 loss Saturday, a game that went into the third period tied 1-1 then got away late.

Friday marks the beginning of a six-game home stand at 3M Arena at Mariucci. After this weekend, four straight Big Ten clashes are on tap (two vs. Michigan State and two vs. Ohio State) before the Christmas break.

Freshman defenseman Ben Brinkman (Edina) became the latest Gopher to notch his first career goal. He lit it up Friday during that three-goals-in-74-seconds explosion.

Minnesota’s embarrassment of riches in goal continued at the Kohl Center. Junior Mat Robson posted 30 saves in the Friday win; senior Eric Schierhorn, the two-time Big Ten Goalie of the Year, stopped 29 but was tagged with the loss Saturday. Look for the goaltending rotation to continue, at least for a while. And wouldn’t every coach love to have that dilemma: red-hot Robson or conference-dominant netminder Schierhorn?

St. Lawrence, meanwhile, is off to a start that is little short of dreadful.

The Saints have lost six straight, including a pair to Michigan and one to Wisconsin. With one win in nine games, third-year head coach Mark Morris is looking for scoring – ANY scoring, from anywhere. St. Lawrence is averaging one goal’s worth of offense per game for the season, except for the four it scored in a 4-1 win over Holy Cross on Oct. 19. That’s the Saints’ only win.

With three of its following five games against arch-rival Clarkson, the team from Canton, N.Y., needs to find the back of the net and find it fast.

Players to Watch

UM’s Tommy Novak, who is expected to skate in his 99th career game Friday night. Novak won 76 percent of his faceoffs in Madison last weekend.

SLU’s Zach Risteau, a freshman who’s a former captain at Benilde-St. Margaret’s. Risteau tore it up in the British Columbia Junior Hockey League two seasons ago and might be just the spark to light up the Saints’ anemic offense.

Why These Games Matter

For the Gophers, it’s time things begin to gel. We’ve seen some of that during the on-again, off-again schedule in October. Now, head coach Bob Motzko wants to see consistency in his offense and teamwork behind the blue line. Goalies? Just keep on keeping on, guys.

For the Saints: Just win, baby. Any how, any way. The season is by no means beyond redemption but having a lot of fresh faces in the lineup is a challenge. The schedule ahead includes several ECAC foes and features three rivalry games against Clarkson so it’s either all hands to the guns or to the boats.

Keys for the Gophers

Score even strength goals – several markers so far have been during power plays and even then it’s sometimes taken a five-minute advantage to drive one in;

Let the offense gel – with new faces, young guns and a new coaching staff this will continue to be a work in progress;

Keep that strong goalie rotation – it’s the glue that holds the operation together while the other key elements slip into place.

Broadcasts: Ben Clymer, Katie Emmer and I will call Friday’s tilt on Fox Sports North Plus. Air time: 7 p.m.

DOUG McLEOD is the five-time Emmy Award-winning play-by-play announcer for Fox Sports and a longtime voice of Division I and NHL hockey. This is his 22nd season calling Golden Gophers hockey games.