Slumping Merrimack Toppled By Union
by Scott McLaughlin/CHN Writer
NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. Earlier in the season, Merrimack's offense was relentless — not necessarily in terms of goals, but in terms of pressure, time of possession and shots on goal. The Warriors averaged a good but not great 3.67 goals per game through their first six, but the more impressive stat was that they outshot each of their first eight opponents and averaged over 30 shots per game during that stretch.
It was easy to see why the Warriors were dominating shots on goal if you saw them play. Their forecheck was ruthless and their cycling was superb. Opponents often spent entire shifts pinned in their own end.
Merrimack's offense has been anything but relentless lately, though. The Warriors are averaging just 2.44 goals per game over their last nine, and they've been outshot in five of their last seven games following Saturday's 3-1 loss to Union, in which they were outshot 34-20. They're now losing a lot of the battles they won so decisively earlier in the season.
"A lot of that game was just battles," Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy said Saturday. "How many times did you see a battle on the wall, and all of a sudden it's four maroon shirts (Union) going one way and two defensemen backing off and the gold team (Merrimack) wondering what the heck just happened?
"In games like this, it's really simple. You gotta win battles, you gotta get pucks deep, you gotta get pucks out. We didn't do it well enough or long enough. Those are the teams we've played of late. That's the way they've played. They just get the puck and sprint and get pucks on the net and attack the net. We've gotta do a better job of winning those types of battles."
It's a classic case of a team getting a taste of its own medicine. Even before the success of the last two years, Dennehy's Merrimack teams were always among the hardest-working in Hockey East. Now the Warriors have found themselves outworked in a few of their recent games, making it tough for them to get the long offensive possessions they had at the beginning of the season.
Dennehy has also noticed other causes for his team's decrease in offense. He said he thinks his team has been a little too indecisive with the puck, and that has resulted in missed opportunities to get it to the net.
"I think that's the biggest issue we've had against teams that play like this," Dennehy said. "He who hesitates is lost. You can't second-guess. You've gotta get that puck and do something quickly with it, no matter what the situation is."
One of the situations where that second-guessing has hurt the Warriors most is on the power play. They haven't scored a power-play goal in their last 18 chances, and they registered just two shots on their five man advantages against Union on Saturday.
In addition to not moving the puck quickly enough, Dennehy pointed to faceoffs as another reason the power play has struggled of late. Union won the majority of faceoffs in its own end Saturday and was thus able to kill 15-20 seconds before Merrimack could even set up in the offensive zone.
Ultimately, Dennehy said the Warriors need to adapt to their opponents better, as well as play their own game better.
"We work a lot on puck possession, but sometimes you just can't play the way you want to play," Dennehy said. "The best teams are able to adapt to that and just simplify their game. We haven't played a full game of that. I saw bits of it against Colgate. I saw bits of it tonight. Not enough against Providence, for sure. You've gotta play a full game of sprinting and moving the puck quickly."
Perhaps winter break is just what the Warriors need to cure their recent ills.