Quality team defense and goaltending were expected to be two of Bowling Green’s major strengths this season.
Just six games into the season, the Falcons can’t keep the puck out of their own net. And the puck is going in the net way too easily.
The Falcons are allowing 4.83 goals per game and their goalies have a combined save percentage of .808 going into non-league games Friday and Saturday.
BG, the coaches pick to win the Western Collegiate Hockey Association championship this season, is 0-5-1. The Falcons have allowed four or more goals in their last five games.
“I honestly think it’s been both,” Bergeron said when asked if the goals allowed were more the result of the goaltending or the team defense. “I don’t want to put too much on the goaltending. Unfortunately, it’s just a situation right now where lots of pucks are ending up in our net for different reasons.
Bergeron said mistakes in all three zones have led to the goals. Along with an ineffective penalty-killing unit, The Falcons have allowed 15 power-play goals in 45 short-handed situations. The penalty-killing is tied for 52nd nationally at 66.7 percent.
Only Arizona State, at 5.0 goals per game, is allowing more goals per game than BG among the 54 NCAA Division I schools this season. The Sun Devils are in their second season as an independent.
The defensive issues have been compounded by BG’s lack of offense. The Falcons are scoring just 2.17 goals per game to tie for 46th nationally and are converting at only 10.6 percent on the power play with five goals in 47 attempts. The BG power play is 44th nationally.
The issues with the defense and goaltending have been a surprise with the return of five defensemen, including two NHL draft picks, and first-team All-Western Collegiate Hockey Association goalie Chris Nell.
“This is a collective effort, and this is us together not getting the job done,” Bergeron said. “We’ve got plenty of examples of our defensive play, whether it’s our forwards or our (defensemen), and our goaltending. That needs to improve.”
The penalty-killing has hurt the Falcons this season, but BG hasn’t always defended well during 5-on-5 situations. BG’s also been guilty of mistakes in the offensive zone with its forechecking, leading to goals for the opponents. Backchecking mistakes and turnovers also have led to goals.
“It’s a bunch of different things that’s happening. It’s just not one thing,” Bergeron said.
GOALTENDING: The Falcons haven’t announced their goaltending plans for the Miami series, but they need better play from Nell, senior Tomas Sholl and freshman Ryan Bednard.
Nell has played in five games, posting a 3.79 goals-against average and an .841 save percentage. Sholl has a 7.64 goals-against and a .759 save percentage in two games, while Bednard allowed four goals in nine shots during his only career start Oct. 15 at Western Michigan. He lasted just 20:58.
“For me, it’s mental, but that’s easier said,” Bergeron said when asked if he thought the goaltending problems were mental or physical. “What I see is more pucks going in our net. Obviously, you’re watching on video and watching is it physical? It’s hard to think it’d be physical when these are people who have proven they can play at this level with the exception of Bednard because he hasn’t been here very long.
“Then, you go back to mental. These are young guys dealing with lots of stuff, and the mental thing is not easy. I’m going to say mental just because physically, they’ve proven they can play at this level, so what’s the difference between this year and years past? It’s the mental approach and the state of their mindset.”
Nell posted a 1.31 goals-against and a .930 save percentage in 37 games last season, but he’s been dealing with the loss of his dad, Rick, who died unexpectedly Sept. 12.
“Square one is where you go back to the most proven guy, who is Chris Nell,” Bergeron said. “I don’t know that’s where we are. I don’t know that we’re not there. The plan is an evolving thing on a daily basis, based on how guys play. We’re going to stick to that plan.
“If we were to go back and just scratch what’s gone on until this point and start with today, Chris Nell is your number one, just like you started the year. I don’t know if we’re there. Where we are is let’s see what guys do on a daily basis with their opportunity and then make decisions based on that.”
ROAD WOES: The Falcons have had poor starts in three of their four road games this season, including an 8-2 loss to Western Michigan Oct. 15 and a 6-1 loss to Ohio State Saturday. BG fell behind 3-1 after the first period at Western Michigan and 3-0 after 20 minutes at OSU.
The Falcons traditionally have played well on the road during Bergeron’s six-plus seasons as head coach, including a 10-8-1 record last season.
“We’ve had poor first periods, and it’s sucked the life out of us,” Bergeron said. “It shouldn’t, but it has. It’s made it difficult to rally and get back in the games. We’ve dug ourselves some holes on the road that have been hard to get out of.”
POWER OUTAGE: One reason the Falcons haven’t scored as expected is a number of key veterans are off to slow starts.
Stephen Baylis and Pierre-Luc Mercier have only one goal each, and Kevin Dufour and Tyler Spezia haven’t scored a goal. Dufour has just seven shots on goal in his six games, while Spezia has only three.
PK: Although the Falcons have allowed the 15 power-play goals this season, they gave up just one power-play goal in seven attempts to OSU Saturday.
“(OSU) still had chances, but Chris Nell made some good saves on the power play,” Bergeron said. “I saw some decent things. We’re just slowly, but surely, chipping away at that part of our game. We know we can execute at a high level and we have to.”
The Falcons, for the most part, have a veteran penalty-killing unit that has had success the last two seasons. BG was 10th nationally last season at 85.9 percent and second the previous season at 89.8 percent.
STARTS: The Falcons’ 0-5-1 start is their worst since the 2009-10 when they started 0-7-1. BG also had an 0-7-1 start during the 1981-82 season.
BY PERIOD: The Falcons have been outscored 12-4 in the first period and 12-2 in the third period, but have outscored their opponents by a 7-5 margin in the second period.
BG has outshot its opponents in both the first and third periods by margins of 57-55 and 51-47, respectively. The Falcons have been outshot 49-46 in the second period.
TV: Friday’s game will be televised by the Time Warner Cable Sports Channel (channel 1311).