McLeod Blog: Gophers' special teams playing catch-up
A key weapon of a winning hockey team is one that rarely hits the spotlight unless it’s not working: the penalty kill. Six games into a young but already torrid season, Minnesota’s PK is still struggling to find consistency.
Golden Gopher opponents have scored on nearly a third of their power-play opportunities. For a team that wants to stay in the top 10, that’s an unacceptable number. Not a surprising one, however, since special teams are traditionally the slowest off the mark early in the season. Case in point: the power play, plodding along at 9.7 percent.
Hopefully, both numbers to improve dramatically over the next few weeks.
Of course, UM has been tossed into the deep end schedule-wise early this season, opening against UMD and Union at the Ice Breaker Tournament in Duluth and earning a split, splitting at home against a strong Penn State team then sailing into the maelstrom at Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks for yet another win-loss weekend against North Dakota. This weekend will make it eight straight games against ranked opponents.
Scouting the Golden Knights
The No. 7 Gophers (3-3-0) have never lost to the denizens of Potsdam, N.Y., although it’s a very short series. All-time, UM is 4-0-0, 2-0-0 at home. Ninth-ranked Clarkson (4-1-1), sporting a heavily Canadian roster (Potsdam, if you haven’t yet puzzled it out, is in upstate New York, a short hop from Canada) plus a potent goaltender who’s technically from Minnesota.
Eden Prairie’s Jake Kielly has been on a tear in the early going. Coming off his second shutout of the season, a 26-save effort in Saturday's 4-0 win over Providence, the sophomore boasts a .958 save percentage (second in the NCAA) and a 1.32 goals-against average (fifth). For the second time in the first month of the season, Kielly has been named ECAC Goaltender of the Week.
Kielly was actually born in Ontario but played in high school at Austin and was a Rookie of the Year in the USHL with the Tri-City Storm before lacing them up in Potsdam.
Clarkson has lost only one of its first six games, splitting at home last weekend against UMass-Lowell and then-ninth ranked Providence on Saturday. Kielly posted the win over the Friars in that game to record his second shutout of the year and fifth career whitewash. Sophomore Devin Brosseau paced the Knights offensively with his second career two-goal game.
Schierhorn Continues Strong
The Knights will have to contend with Minnesota’s own outstanding twine-minder. Eric Schierhorn, always an athletic and aggressive goalie, now squares to the puck more consistently and seems on track for a terrific season.
Schierhorn is the two-time defending Big Ten Goaltender of the Year. The junior is slated to make his 82nd consecutive start Friday night, most among active NCAA goalies. He already passed John Lothrop (1964-66) for the school record for consecutive starts by a goalie earlier this month.
Kloos on the Loose In the NHL
Notable: Two-time Gophers captain Justin Kloos made his NHL debut with the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday night. He’s the 113th Gopher Hockey alum to play in the NHL and the 14th to play for the Wild. A two-time All-Big Ten selection, Kloos led the Maroon & Gold to four straight Big Ten regular-season titles, the 2015 Big Ten Tournament title and three NCAA berths including a national championship appearance in 2014.
We’re Back on the Tube
Join me for both Minnesota-Clarkson tilts at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday nights on Fox Sports North Plus. Veteran partner Ben Clymer will be alongside while former Gophers and Team USA standout Krissy Wendell joins us for expert commentary and interviews from ice level.
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 21st season calling Golden Gopher hockey games.