BC Trying to Maintain Its Power
by Michael King/CHN Reporter
NEW HAVEN, Conn. The tremendous run of success for Boston College over the past decade has yielded three national championships and six Frozen Four appearances. Coach Jerry York has recruited and developed a lengthy list of quality players during that time period who have cycled through the program. However, one thing has remained constant: exceptional special teams play.
Despite employing a dominant penalty kill this season, the Eagles have struggled mightily on the power play. The team’s 10-4 record and No. 5 ranking indicate that BC can overcome this shortcoming and win games – the hallmark of a good team.
But York’s teams are not typically just good; they are among the best in the nation. And if this Boston College team expects to reach the same heights as previous squads, then scoring on the power play is a necessity.
The Eagles are currently fighting through a 1-for-22 quagmire with the man advantage in their last four games. It’s no coincidence that BC’s record in that stretch is 2-2, with the two victories requiring game-winners in the last minute of play.
Saturday afternoon against Yale, the Eagles couldn’t take advantage of seven Bulldog penalties, though the squad eventually escaped with 3-2 victory at Ingalls Rink.
Unlike BC’s most recent games, which featured a lackluster power-play effort, the Eagles established smooth puck movement and scoring chances on their six full power plays against the Bulldogs. But the Yale defense’s efficiency in clearing pucks and spectacular play of goaltender Jeff Malcolm (36 saves) killed all of the man-advantage opportunities.
After the game, York identified several power-play chances where he thought Yale was fortunate to avoid allowing a goal.
In addition, the coach acknowledged how his team avoided becoming overly frustrated with the results, given its commitment to the process.
“I thought we gained some momentum on the power play because I thought we were good on them,” he said. “Even though we didn’t score, I think we felt good about moving the puck and creating chances. Though we went 0-for-6, it wasn’t a situation that was demoralizing. We had our chances but [Malcolm] made some good saves.”
That’s the primary reason why the coach declined to alter his power-play combinations as many other coaches might consider. In fact, senior captain Tommy Cross – whom the first power-play unit orients its play from the one-timers he launches – spent the Eagles’ entire final power play on the ice in the third period.
“We have two groups of five that are our meat-and-potatoes guys,” York said. “They’re the ones who constantly practice together and learn how to feed off each other.”
BC’s power-play units mirror its line combinations. Forwards Chris Kreider, Bill Arnold, Kevin Hayes typically get the first opportunity to score along with Cross and Steven Whitney at the point.
Establishing the same quality as last season is a challenging goal. The Eagles entered the NCAA tournament as a No. 1 seed with 30-7-1 record in 2010-11 and sported the best power play in Hockey East, converting 23 percent of their opportunities.
As the power play works to correct its faults, it can look to the penalty kill as a model of excellence. In fact – against Yale – that unit was the reason the Eagles escaped with a victory.
Late in the second period, as the referees called defenseman Patch Alber for holding, Pat Mullane committed a roughing penalty after the play. The ensuing 5-on-3 power play posed a substantial challenge, given the Eagles were already down 2-0.
“The game changed so quickly,” York said. “They were looking at 5-on-3 for a full two minutes. If they scored there, it would have been 3-0. I thought that was a key turning point in the game. Our ability to defend and score right after was a large momentum changer.”
It was three of York’s most dependable two-way players, Arnold and defensemen Dumoulin and Cross, who owned primary responsibility for the kill.
As with most teams, the Eagles’ best penalty killers are also their best overall players. But given BC’s depth, York has the luxury of rotating other skaters through the penalty kill who don’t feature on top lines or pairings. Players such as forward Paul Carey and defenseman Edwin Shea had considerable roles rendering five BC penalties harmless against the Bulldogs.
Despite this depth advantage, members from each power-play unit exerted energy in non-scoring situations. Though this circumstance makes BC one of the most dangerous teams for shorthanded-goal potential (three this season, including one against Yale), it prevents the man-advantage specialists from being well rested when their opportunities arise.
Late in the third period, BC appeared to reach the peak of its frustration with wasting its man-advantage opportunities. Cross took an unnecessary hooking penalty away from the puck, evidently fatigued from giving maximum effort on the previous power play.
But his teammates bailed out the captain even as the outcome appeared certain. Dumoulin caused a turnover near the redline and thundered the other direction toward the Yale net. Forward Barry Almeida scored the subsequent 2-on-1 opportunity to tie the score, minutes before the Eagles won the game.
Until the power play returns to form, the team will require similar efforts from its penalty kill if BC hopes to maintain its current winning pace.