Bowling Green’s penalty-killing is heading in the right direction.
The Falcons have killed off 25 of their last 29 short-handed situations in the last five games going into this weekend’s Western Collegiate Hockey Association series at Northern Michigan.
Most recently, the Falcon penalty-killers were 12 of 14 against Ferris State last weekend.
“We’re just really simplifying it,” BG sophomore defenseman Connor McDonald said of the improved penalty-killing. “We know where we need to be when the puck is in certain areas of the ice.”
BG has done a better job of blocking shots, too.
“That’s been a big one,” McDonald said. “The first couple weekends, we didn’t do the best job of that. With blocking those shots, it gives us a lot of momentum.”
The penalty-killing has been helped by the goaltending of Chris Nell, who has a 1.74 goals-against average and a .905 percentage in the last four games.
“If you do make a mistake, he’s there to back you up,” McDonald said.
The penalty-killing was one of BG’s strengths the last two seasons, but it allowed 12 power-play goals in 27 chances in a three-game stretch against Western Michigan and Ohio State earlier this season. The penalty-killing was expected to be strong again this season, thanks to a veteran group of penalty-killers.
“The better we do with it, the more confidence we get,” McDonald said. “A good penalty-kill and blocking shots gets the whole bench up. Everyone is hootin’ and hollerin’ and that just gives us momentum going back to even strength.”
The highlight of the penalty-killing against Ferris was the Falcons fighting off a two-man advantage of 44 seconds in the second period with the score tied 1-1.
The 5-on-3 started as a 4-on-3 for 1:17 and then became the two-man advantage. Ferris finally scored on the back end of 5-on-3 advantage, but only after it had been on the power play for 2:41. The span included three minutes of a power play from a major penalty on the Falcons.
The Falcons blocked five shots, and Nell made three saves during that time, but Ferris trapped the BG penalty-killers in their own end of the ice.
BG couldn’t clear the puck, preventing it from changing players. Line changes are harder to make in the second period because teams have the long change to their bench. McDonald, Chris Pohlkamp, Mitch McLain and Mark Friedman all were on the ice for an extended period, resulting in fatigue and the Ferris goal.
When Friedman left the penalty box and rejoined the play for the 5-on-4, BG had three defensemen and one forward on the ice, instead of the usual two forwards and two defensemen. Ferris scored on a nice back-door pass.
“We did a pretty darn good job on that kill,” Bergeron said.
DROUGHT: BG’s Stephen Baylis doesn’t have a point in the last seven games after totaling a goal and two assists in the team’s first three games. The 6-foot-1, 201-pound left wing was expected to be one of the team’s leading scorers, even though he’s only a sophomore.
“It’s a little more mental than physical,” Bergeron said of Baylis’ drought. “He needs to stay engaged mentally more of the time. He tends to drift a little bit mentally, and then not getting as much accomplished on the ice, shift in, shift out, day in, day out.”
Baylis played well late last season and finished the season with nine goals and 13 assists in 35 games.
“If he could just lock in mentally more of the time, he’ll be fine,” Bergeron said. “He has an elite skill set, and he’s a guy who has lots and lots of potential. He just has to fight the fact that the points say he’s not doing what he wants to do. He just has to stay with it and stay engaged more of the time mentally.”
NMU: The Wildcats, fifth in the WCHA coaches poll, are 3-6-1 overall and 1-4-1 in the league. In the WCHA, NMU lost twice at home to Bemidji State, won and tied at Ferris, and was swept by Michigan Tech in a home-and-home series.
NMU is coming off a split at Wisconsin, posting a 5-2 win in Game 1 and dropping a 2-0 decision in Game 2.
“We’re still a work in progress,” NMU coach Walt Kyle said during his weekly meeting with the media. “We’re so up and down offensively. We have to find a way to create goals on a consistent basis. Five-on-five, we’re doing a pretty good job with both sides of the puck.”
The Wildcats are eighth in the league in scoring (2.2 goals per game) and fifth in goals allowed (2.9). They’re next-to-last in power-play conversions (8.8 percent, 5 of 57) and penalty-killing (74.6 percent, 44 of 59).
NMU is the fourth-most penalized team in the league, averaging 15.9 minutes per game. BG is eighth at 14.5.
“Right now, we’re just focusing on getting better every day,” said NMU junior forward Robbie Payne, who leads the team in scoring with 10 points. He has five goals and five assists in 10 games.
STAR POWER: NMU senior Dominik Shine is one of the league’s best forwards, earning second-team All-WCHA honors last season. The 5-foot-11, 175-pounder has two goals and one assist in four games this season after missing the first six games for undisclosed reasons. Shine has 30 goals and 40 assists in 102 games at NMU.
“He’s a real competitive kid,” Bergeron said. “He’s a kid in juniors who people talked about being a checker because he played so hard, and he’s physical. He was even willing to drop the gloves (fight) once in a while. His competitiveness for a skill guy is where you start, and then it’s his skill level. He shoots the puck really well. He has a knack to score goals.”
Sophomore Atte Tolvanen has started eight of NMU’s 10 games in goal, posting a 2.78 goals-against average and a .909 save percentage. He was the goalie on the All-WCHA rookie team last season. Senior Brock Maschmeyer is NMU’s best defensemen. He has three assists and a +3 on-ice rating.
HOME/AWAY: The Wildcats have played five of their 10 games on the road, and two other contests were neutral-size games. NMU is 3-3-1 in those seven games while going 0-3 at home.
BG is 1-5 on the road and 1-2-1 at home.
TRAVEL: The Falcons traveled to NMU late Wednesday night via sleeper bus. They practiced at the Berry Events Center Thursday night and were scheduled for another skate there Friday morning.
The arena has a capacity of about 3,800 has an Olympic-sized ice surface that is 200 feet wide by 100 feet long. The BGSU Ice Arena is 200-by-85.
MORE GOALS: Scoring in WCHA league games is up 5.4 percent this season. League games are averaging 5.25 goals per game this season, compared to 4.98 last season.