UND MEN'S HOCKEY: After rough Denver weekend, UND to face puck possession Bulldogs
North Dakota is coming off of its worst defensive weekend of the season.
It allowed a season-high 10 goals in a pair of losses at the University of Denver.
There were multiple backdoor tap-ins, multiple uncovered players shooting from the slot and multiple breakaways in the same period.
It looked nothing like a UND squad that entered last weekend ranked No. 2 nationally in scoring defense and one that has blanked opponents seven times already this season.
With Minnesota Duluth looming this weekend (7:37 p.m. Friday, 7:07 p.m. Saturday), UND will have to quickly rediscover its defensive prowess, because the Bulldogs test opposing goalies as much as anyone in the nation.
Minnesota Duluth is outshooting opponents by an average of 10.96 shots per game, which ranks second nationally only behind MSU-Mankato's 11.94).
Advanced statistics, aimed at tracking puck possession, show that the Bulldogs are dominant there.
Minnesota Duluth ranks second nationally in Corsi, which tracks shot attempts vs. shot attempts allowed per game (58.7 percent possession). It ranks first nationally in Corsi close, which tracks shot attempts vs. shot attempts allowed in one-goal games in the third period (61.5 percent possession).
Although the Bulldogs enter this weekend under .500 at 11-12-5, it hasn't been for a lack of offensive chances. It has been an issue of finishing off chances.
Minnesota Duluth ranks third nationally in shots on goal per game (36.14), but only 29th in offense (2.64 goals per game).
The Bulldogs have outshot their opponent in all 11 wins and in 13 of the 17 losses or ties.
"I see a very hard team to play against in our end of the rink," Berry said. "They are very good offensively. They protect pucks. They win pucks. They find ways to get pucks to the net. Their D-men are extremely aggressive as far as holding lines to keep pucks. We're going to have to be good in our end of the rink.
"We're going to have to make sure that we break out pucks and do whatever we have to do to get out of our own end of the rink."
UND got to see Minnesota Duluth's game in December, when the Fighting Hawks traveled to AmsOil Arena for a two-game series. The Bulldogs outshot UND 40-22 and 38-20 in the games, despite losing both of them 3-0.
On Friday night, goalie Cam Johnson was sensational in becoming the first UND goalie to post a 40-save shutout since NHLer Jon Casey in 1984. On Saturday, the Fighting Hawks helped out Johnson a little more, keeping most of the shots to the outside.
That's something UND struggled at accomplishing last weekend against the Pioneers.
"We need to be hugely better as far as making sure we're a tight five-man unit," UND coach Brad Berry said. "I don't think it's only in the D-zone. It's also in the neutral zone and offensive zone. Our gaps have to be tight and we have to try to limit their time in our end. When they are in our end, we have to make sure we're tight."
Minnesota Duluth's most frequent shooters are senior forward Tony Cameranesi (170 shot attempts), senior defenseman Andy Welinski (157), junior forward Dom Toninato (147), rookie defenseman Neal Pionk (146), junior defenseman Willie Raskob (129) and speedy sophomore forward Karson Kuhlman (128).
"They are a balanced team," Berry said. "They have a lot of depth. Look at their forward lines: they're an older team that's battle tested. They have experience and they have a lot of players that lead to a deep team."
While Minnesota Duluth has been inconsistent this season and has struggled against ranked foes (1-9-4 against teams ranked in this week's top 20), the Fighting Hawks say they know the Bulldogs will present difficulties.
"We know what they are," Berry said. "We have to identify that early in the weekend, so we don't give them a lot of opportunities to get to our net."
Berry did have some encouraging news for UND's defensive corps.
Although Paul LaDue has sat out some practices early this week, Berry thinks his junior blue liner will be back in the lineup Friday night against the Bulldogs.
LaDue missed last Saturday's game against Denver with an undisclosed injury.
Minnesota Duluth will get forward Kyle Osterberg back in the lineup after the Twin Cities product missed the last month, but the Bulldogs will be without the team's leading goal-scorer and second-leading point-getter, Austin Farley. He is week-to-week.
The Bulldogs also will be without sixth defenseman Dan Molenaar, who is out with an injury.