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UConn Men's Hockey Weekend Preview: Senior Night and the Season Finalé

The Huskies will be playing their last regular season home game at the XL Center Friday night and then head to New Hampshire on Saturday for the final game of the season.

Rob Nichols had approximately one million saves last time these the Huskies met UNH.
Rob Nichols had approximately one million saves last time these the Huskies met UNH.
Ian Bethune

Team Comparison (Hockey East statistics)


UConn

Goals per Game: 2.0 (11th in Hockey East)

Goals Allowed: 3.25 (T-9th)

Power Play: 22% (4th)

Penalty Kill: 82.2% (7th)

New Hampshire

Goals per Game: 2.60 (7th)

Goals Against: 3.2 (8th)

Power Play: 21.8% (5th)

Penalty Kill: 76.6% (10th)

The Huskies conclude their regular season this weekend versus the New Hampshire Wildcats. With two games remaining, UConn finds themselves 10th in Hockey East and still with an opportunity to claim the 8th and final seed for home ice in the first round of the Hockey East Tournament.

Trailing UNH by 2 points for 8th, UConn will need at minimum a three-point weekend and a favorable result from the Vermont-Merrimack series in order to claim their first home playoff series.

Similar to last season, Mike Cavanaugh's bunch has struggled down the home stretch. Losers of four straight, the squad has managed to win only one Hockey East game since the first weekend of December. Last Friday's game versus Northeastern, UConn put on their worst performance of the season. After UConn opened the scoring with a Tage Thompson power play goal, Northeastern thoroughly dominated the play for the remainder of the contest. UConn put forth an improved effort the following evening but still fell once again at the hands of Northeastern.

In order to finish the season on a high note, the Huskies will need a complete effort each night. However, inconsistent play has been a hallmark of the team all season and is the biggest reason UConn has stumbled down the stretch.

There are two key areas which will determine whether UConn is successful against the Wildcats. The first is defensive zone play. Too many times this season UConn has lost men in their zone or opposing players have been able to beat UConn to spots on the ice. Bad clearing attempts also have held UConn inside their defensive zone. Against an offense like UNH, UConn's defense will need to be solid, especially on the Olympic size rink of the Whittemore Center Saturday night.

The second key area against UNH will be the Huskies' ability to score at even strength. UConn's vast improvement on the power play is clear. Last season in Hockey East play, the power play unit only managed 10 goals and was successful only 13% of the time. This season, the unit has lit the lamp 18 times while operating at a 22% clip, good for 4th in Hockey East.

The success of the power play has masked the ineffectiveness of the team's ability to score 5 v 5. The Huskies have managed just 22 even strength goals in 20 Hockey East contests. It averages out to be only 1.1 even strength goals per game, last in Hockey East. Last season, UConn averaged 1.45 even strength goals per game. 45% of their Hockey East goal total has been from the power play, by far the highest percentage in Hockey East. The next highest is Providence at 32.8%.

In order for this weekend to be a success, offense will need to come from even strength play. It is especially important considering UNH is the second least penalized team in the conference.

The New Hampshire Wildcats come into the weekend following a sweep at the hands of Boston University. Despite being swept, UNH still sits 8th in the conference and controls their own destiny in regards to hosting a home playoff series.

The Wildcats are led by their top line of Andrew Poturalski, Tyler Kelleher, and Dan Correale. Poturalski and Kelleher are first and second in scoring in Hockey East with 48 points and 42 points, respectively. Poturalski is the conference's leading goal scorer with 22 and Kelleher leads assists with 34. The duo also ranks first and third in power play points. UConn's ability to limit the damage of the Poturalski line will have a major impact on whether UConn can claim multiple points this weekend.

New Hampshire's defense has struggled at times this season, which has resulted in the team allowing 3.31 goals per game in all competitions, ranking 11th out of 12 teams in Hockey East. New Hampshire's penalty kill has struggled as well, killing penalties at a rate of 77.2% the entire season. With UConn's power play converting at 22% of the time in Hockey East contests, UNH's penalty kill unit will be one area the Huskies will need to exploit.

The two biggest matchups to look for will be the Huskies' power play versus UNH's penalty kill and UConn's ability to clamp down on the Wildcats' top line. If UConn can be successful in both areas, it will go a long way in making the final regular season series a success.