The UConn men's hockey team is now in the midst of its worst stretch under Mike Cavanaugh.
A poor run of form hit a new low Tuesday night, when the Huskies dropped a 2-0 decision to previously-winless Army at the XL Center. UConn (3-7-0, 1-5-0 Hockey East) has now lost five straight games since defeating No. 8 Boston University in Hartford Oct. 27.
In Cavanaugh's third season, this is the first time his Huskies have lost five straight games. A UConn team had not done so since the 2010-11 season, when the Huskies finished 15-18-4.
"Right now, to say we're in a major funk would be an understatement," Cavanaugh said after Tuesday's loss. "We're just not a very good hockey team right now."
Things looked like they may have been turning around late in the fourth loss, a 5-3 loss at UMass. UConn scored twice late in the game and looked ready to turn a corner.
The Army game provided an excellent opportunity to get the win UConn needed to get back on track. The Black Knights (1-5-2) entered the game winless, never losing a game by fewer than two goals. For as rough as UConn looked in Brooklyn during its 8-2 loss for Notre Dame, Army looked as bad or worse in the first game at the Barclays Center, falling 6-2 to Bentley.
It was a back-and-forth contest most of the first two periods Tuesday, though UConn may have been lucky to be in a scoreless tie that long. If not for goaltender Rob Nichols, UConn could have been trailing earlier and by more.
The goal was not even on Nichols. It was a beautiful backdoor play by the Black Knights. Center Shane Hearn controlled the puck just below the blue line and saw Ryan Nick skating in behind Miles Gendron. Hearn's feed split the defense and Nick buried it past the defenseless Nichols.
"Robby Nichols gives up one goal, that should win us a hockey game," junior forward Evan Richardson said. "I think it's on us to put a goal in or two for him."
Richardson was frustrated after losing the battle for the puck that eventually led to the second goal, an empty-netter. UConn went six-on-five to try to get the tying goal, but the puck escaped the zone, and Richardson could not get to it before Clint Carlisle, who was able to skate in for the uncontested goal.
UConn, as a team, will surely be frustrated with its offensive play during this stretch. The Huskies have been finding goals hard to come by, and chances have been limited. UConn only had 23 shots Tuesday, with 10 of those coming in the first period. Prior to Army's first goal, UConn had a 22-21 shot advantage. Army outshot the Huskies 9-1 the rest of the way.
"I think when below the goal line, we cut back, get it to the (defensemen), we make good plays," sophomore forward Corey Ronan said. "But we definitely have to bear down in the red zone. We have to bear down in front of the net. Obviously, we're not scoring right now, so we just have to bear down in practice. Practice makes perfect."
The rest of 2015 is merciless for the Huskies. After a trip to Vermont Friday, UConn will play its final five games of the calendar year against ranked opponents: No. 4 Quinnipiac (Nov. 17), No. 2 Boston College (Nov. 24), No. 6 UMass Lowell (Dec. 5 and 6) and No. 14 Merrimack (Dec. 11). The Huskies resume play Jan. 1 against Minnesota at Mariucci Arena. Quite an unforgiving schedule for the Huskies.
The bright side for UConn is its incredible success at home against top programs. BU was the latest casualty added to a list that includes Boston College, Vermont and UMass Lowell. But that will not help UConn get out of the funk. Only the Huskies can help themselves right now.
"I think we're a better team than what we're showing right now, but we're clearly not," Cavanaugh said. "We're not winning games and we're not winning third periods, and that's a major issue for us right now. We have to fight our way out of the funk. That's the only thing we can do is just keep fighting. Hopefully some pucks start going in for us and we can turn it around."