By Scott McLaughlin/DFP Staff
While the players were away during the holiday break, Boston University men’s hockey coach Jack Parker and his staff watched video of the first semester and discussed which areas they wanted to focus on the most when the team returned. They decided on three- defensive zone coverage, the penalty kill and the power play.
In the No. 10/11 Terriers’ first practice of the second half (which was delayed from Sunday night to Tuesday afternoon because of the blizzard that hit the Northeast), they worked on D-zone coverage and nothing else. On Wednesday, they devoted one session to the penalty kill and one to the power play.
That’s a far cry from a normal practice, which usually focuses on one area for 10-20 minutes before moving on to something else, but Parker said it was important to spend that much time on those areas before working on anything else.
Of those three target areas, Parker identified D-zone coverage as the most important. The Terriers switched from man-to-man coverage to a hybrid zone before the season, and it paid dividends early on. Although opponents were getting a lot of shots, the vast majority of them were coming from the perimeter and were easy saves for the goalies.
But toward the end of the semester, opponents started getting more grade-A chances as the Terriers’ coverage in front of the net broke down. That, combined with a slight decline in goaltending, caused BU to give up four or more goals in six of its last seven games after having given up that many just once in its first 10. Unsurprisingly, it went 2-4-1 in that stretch after starting the year 6-0-4.
“I think we were much stingier and much more efficient in our new D-zone [at the beginning of the year],” Parker said. “I think we got away from knowing where we should be and being thorough in our own end positionally, as well as being physical and intense in our own end. We got a little too casual. We got a little too unaware of our positions. And I think that really hurt us.”
The penalty kill mirrored the D-zone coverage in many ways. It started off great (BU killed 36 of 37 and had the best PK in the country in mid-November) but faltered as the semester went on. The Terriers allowed eight goals on 28 chances over their last five games of the semester, giving them a 71.4-percent success rate during that stretch that is well below their 84-percent clip for the season. Parker said the PK went downhill for the same reasons as the D-zone coverage- being too casual and unaware.
“I think we lost a little confidence in those areas,” Parker said. “We lost our way, so to speak, in killing penalties and in D-zone coverage, and we’ve got to get that back in our game and be really efficient at that like we were earlier.
“I think we did a better job down their end forechecking [on the penalty kill], but we didn’t do as good a job when they were entering our zone and when they had possession of the puck in our zone.”
The power play was the easiest area in need of attention to pick out because it’s been sputtering all season. The Terriers rank eighth in Hockey East and 50th (of 58) in the country with a meager 12-percent conversion rate. Parker said he’s trying to let the team take ownership of turning the power play around because it’s been at its best when the guys running it were playing loose.
“I think it’s being frozen up a little bit,” Parker said. “It isn’t what power play we’re running, it’s how we’re running it. I think we were overthinking it and overhandling it and not feeling like we could go play hockey on it. So we’ve got to get them back to that. I thought the best we played on the power play all year was the first three or four games. We’ve gone downhill. We shouldn’t be coaching it, we should just let them play.”
BU’s first chance to see if the renewed focus on those areas pays off will come this weekend in the Shillelagh Tournament in Hoffman Estates, Ill. The Terriers face Brown University in the tournament opener Saturday at 4 p.m. ET before taking on either No. 12 University of Notre Dame or Minnesota State University on Sunday. (Note: We’ll be live blogging all four games of the tournament.)
BU and Brown (3-4-4) skated to a 4-4 tie at Agganis Arena on Nov. 27. After the Bears jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the game’s opening minutes, the Terriers scored three straight, only to see Brown come back and reclaim a 4-3 lead. Sophomore forward Wade Megan netted the tying goal for BU with 7:09 left in regulation.
The game is perhaps most notable for a vicious knee-to-knee hit that Brown senior forward Harry Zolnierczyk landed on BU freshman defenseman Adam Clendening early in the third period that resulted in a five-minute major and game disqualification. After the game, junior defenseman and assistant captain David Warsofsky said, “Nothing you can do about it now, but I think come January when we play them again, we’ll remember that hit.”
Parker said he doesn’t expect his team to go out of its way to avenge the hit, though.
“It all depends on if that was a random occasion or if that’s how they play,” Parker said. “If that’s how they play, then I think there would be some more retaliation and we’d look to be more physical. I think it’s just a couple individual players that have that reputation on that team. I don’t think it’s the coach’s philosophy or the team’s philosophy.”
-Junior forward and co-captain Chris Connolly will return to the lineup this weekend after missing the last five games with a broken left pinky finger. He was tied for the team lead in scoring with 12 points (5g, 7a) in 12 games at the time of the injury.
-BU will be without freshman center Charlie Coyle, who is playing for Team USA in the World Junior Championship in Buffalo. Parker said freshman Sahir Gill will move from wing to center in his absence. He also said he’s planning on keeping Gill at center even after Coyle comes back. The current plan is to move sophomore Ross Gaudet from center to wing when Coyle returns. Megan, who played center for most of the first half before shifting to wing, will remain on the wing. Parker said Gill has been “dying to play center” and Megan has been “playing better at wing.”
-Clendening, who was cut from the junior team along with freshman forward Matt Nieto, was injured in one of the team’s exhibition games while blocking a shot, according to a source at the game, but Parker said he hadn’t heard anything about it and that he’s expecting Clendening to play this weekend.
-A few players, including both Clendening and Nieto, still weren’t back as of Tuesday because of the blizzard. Parker said a few others took red-eye flights just to make Tuesday’s practice.
-Parker said the current plan is to start junior Kieran Millan in net both games this weekend, but that things could change.