By any measure, UConn men’s hockey’s power play has been terrible this season.
The Huskies have converted just five of 48 opportunities (10.4 percent), the sixth-worst mark in the nation. Of those five power-play goals, two were from a single game at Maine, another was in the season opener to Sacred Heart — whose penalty kill percentage is 45th out of 59 in the country — while another came at Ohio State — whose PK is 48th nationally.
UConn’s inability to do much of anything with an extra skater (or two) was on full display in the loss to Harvard on Sunday. The Huskies climbed back from an early hole to tie the game at 2-2 and were then gifted 5-on-3 power play lasting 1:48. But they generated just two shots on net during the extended two-man advantage.
Head coach Mike Cavanaugh acknowledged the team’s shortcomings on the power play but also expressed optimism in their ability to turn things around.
“It’s not anything we can’t fix,” he said.
“I would equate it to a hitter who’s like 0-for-20. It’s not that you do anything differently. You just gotta get back to basics and fundamentals and simplify your swing and find a good pitch and hit it,” Cavanaugh said. “I think the power play is very similar. You don’t have to have any gimmicks. You don’t have to do anything that’s going to fool the opponent. You just have to get back to fundamentals, shoot pucks, win battles, and we need to take the same mentality.”
The good news is the Huskies don’t have a talent or personnel issue. Their forward group features plenty of dangerous players and on the blue line they have enough offense to make things work. At any rate, the key to a good power play is often less about which players are on the ice and more about how those players execute.
“I’ve coached very, very talented teams (as an assistant at Boston College) where three or four guys on the power play have played in the National Hockey League and they’ve struggled on the power play because you try to get too cute and you try to make that pretty play,” Cavanaugh said. “A lot of times it’s just pounding it to the net and getting rebounds.”
A persistent power play problem for UConn — both this year and in the past — is not shooting enough. Often, the Huskies will pass the puck around the perimeter but won’t rip it at goal or settle for a low-percentage look.
Not only does UConn have to put more pucks on net in general, it needs to be a better job of getting it down low and creating good chances with decisive passes and off-puck movement instead of just standing around in an arc.
“What kills power plays are unforced errors or, like in basketball, unforced turnovers when you throw the ball away,” Cavanaugh explained. “At times, we’re doing that instead of just taking the play that they give you and getting it to the net. We’re trying to sift it through the box and it gets picked off and then it goes the other way and then you’re back trying to break the puck out. We have to cut down on unforced errors and as I said earlier, simplify it and just get it to the net.”
UConn’s main focus in practice this week has naturally been the power play. While film reviews and individual conversations with players are part of the process, most of the work is done on the ice.
For as bad as the Huskies have been on the advantage, they have plenty of time to turn it around. Cavanaugh pointed to last year’s team, which went 3-30 on the power play during one stretch but then caught fire and went 11-33 over their next eight games. The hope is the current UConn team can pull off something similar and become a true offensive juggernaut.
“I like the fact that we’re a team that scores 5-on-5 and we can score off the offensive zone and we can score off the rush. Once we get our power play going to supplement that, that’s where we’re going to be pretty good,” Cavanaugh explained. “We can still win a hockey game out-playing the opponent 5-on-5 [but] you’re going to need though to win special teams late in the season to win those tough, close games.”
While UConn didn’t have sophomore forward Nick Capone or Hudson Schandor due to COVID protocols last weekend, Cavanaugh expects ”a full lineup this weekend,” he said.
How to watch
Date: Saturday, Jan. 8
Time: 4:00 p.m.
Location: Conte Forum, Chestnut Hill, MA
Streaming: SportsLive (free)