UNH Insider: PK clicking for men’s hockey as it prepares for key series vs. BU

  • University of New Hampshire junior forward Patrick Grasso (left) is one of the team’s top penalty killers and tied for the career lead in points among current players with senior Liam Blackburn. Both have 79 points. MEGHAN MURPHY / UNHWildcats.com

Published: 2/13/2020 10:31:55 PM
Modified: 2/13/2020 10:31:45 PM

DURHAM – The University of New Hampshire men’s hockey team has picked up the pace in its penalty killing production over the last few weekends.

The Wildcats will be out to stymie an opponent’s potent power play again this weekend when they square off against Boston University in a crucial Hockey East series for each team.

UNH and BU are deadlocked in fifth place in the Hockey East standings heading into the weekend. The teams are poised to move up into a coveted top four spot for the fast-approaching league playoffs. But they must also be wary of the teams below them in the standings.

The two-game set starts with UNH’s annual “Blue Out BU” night at the Whittemore Center Friday at 7 p.m. The series switches to Agganis Arena at BU for another 7 p.m. start Saturday.

The Wildcats had some rough times while killing penalties earlier in the season, but they have tightened things up while a man down recently. They have not allowed a power play goal over their last six games. Previous to this stretch, they had held a team without a power play goal in only three games total all year.

“We’ve been working on it a lot,” said sophomore center Filip Engaras. “We’re thinking of it and finding small details to be fixed and trying to simplify our game and I think that’s helped us a lot.”

UNH killed off all eight power plays it faced during its sweep of Vermont last weekend, a 6-3 win Friday night and 2-1 decision on Saturday. What’s more, Vermont had a two-man advantage in the first period each night: for 34 seconds on Friday and a one-minute, 30-second span Saturday.

“The 5 on 3, that’s a great kill,” Engaras said. “It’s a momentum switch, obviously, to kill that and transfer that into playing offense.”

Before Vermont, the Wildcats killed off all four penalties over two nights against UConn and they started their current run by killing off an even dozen while taking three points against then-No. 7 UMass with a 1-0 win and 1-1 tie.

The week before, No. 11 Providence had scored four power plays in nine chances while the teams split a series.

Head coach Mike Souza credits assistant coaches Glenn Stewart and Jeff Guiliano with changes that have helped the penalty kill.

“Glenn and Jeff have done a nice job at addressing some of the issues,” Souza said. “They predominantly do the PK. I think we’ve made some tactical adjustments on it. It’s a couple of things. One, I think we’ve blocked more shots. I also think we’ve done a really good job off of lost faceoffs, just changing our points of pressure when teams have control of it.”

It comes down to some of the basics.

“Then it’s just a matter of executing, to be honest with you,” Souza said. “Clearing the puck, faceoffs and blocked shots. I think those are the three areas that you need to be excellent in in terms of killing penalties and I think we’ve been way better in those areas. Earlier in the year we tried to be a little more aggressive probably. Sometimes in our rink I feel you can get a bit stretched out. Yeah, you can get lost and teams hit a seam on you. I thought we did a better job of trying to reel it back in, playing in lanes. And we’ve done a way better job clearing pucks, winning faceoffs.”

Senior Liam Blackburn, junior Patrick Grasso, junior Charlie Kelleher (before missing the last couple of games with an injury) and sophomore Jackson Pierson have been among the forwards leading the way on penalty killing units.

“We’ve got a core group,” Souza said. “I’d like to get more guys involved in killing penalties. It just hasn’t worked out that way recently.”

Now comes BU. The Terriers are ranked third in Hockey East in power play with a 23.5 percent success rate, a couple of ticks ahead of UNH, fifth at 21.7.

BU has scored power play goals in bunches lately. Each of the last two Mondays, the Terriers have played what has officially gone in the books as a 4-4 tie in the Beanpot tournament against Boston College and Northeastern, two of the top teams in Hockey East and the nation. BU advanced in overtime against Boston College the first week and then lost this past Monday in overtime to Beanpot champion Northeastern.

The Terriers were two-for-three on the power play against Northeastern and two-for-five against BC.

A few weeks ago, BU went four-for-seven with the man advantage in a 5-0 win over UMass Lowell.

Of particular concern for the Wildcats this weekend will be BU junior defenseman David Farrance. He leads Hockey East in power play goals with nine and leads the league’s defensemen in scoring with 13 goals and 22 assists for 35 points.

Farrance was a third-round pick of the Nashville Predators (No. 92 overall) in the 2017 NHL draft.

UNH junior defenseman Max Gildon went in the same round of the same draft at No. 66 overall to the Florida Panthers. Gildon leads the Wildcats in scoring and in is fourth among league defensemen at 7-17-24. Six of his goals have been on the power play.


■Wildcat winter hats will be given to the first 1,000 fans Friday night at the Whittemore Center and it’s also a Dollar Dog night at the concessions stands in the arena.

■ Tickets are available at unhwildcats.com or by calling 862-4000. Group and individual game tickets are available for all UNH home games. Tickets start at $9.

■ Friday’s game is on NESNplus. Saturday’s is on CBS All Access.

■ UNH and BU are tied for fifth place in Hockey East with 19 points each. Boston College and Maine are just a point ahead, tied for third. UConn and Providence are tied for seventh, a point behind BU and UNH. Northeastern is in ninth, another point back.

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