Men's Hockey

Notebook: Power Play Struggles, Defense Breaks Down in Loss to River Hawks

Boston College men’s hockey just can’t get it done. Losing to Massachusetts Lowell Thursday night, the Eagles extended their winless streak to the longest since the 2008-09 season. The offense can’t find the back of the net, the defense is giving up scoring opportunities on turnovers in the defensive zone, and the power play is anemic at best. Joseph Woll, Scott Savage, Luke McInnis, and some others are playing good hockey, but the team chemistry is lacking and BC cannot win as a result.

Lowell came out swinging in the beginning of the first period, and only increased its vigor throughout the course of the game. The intense forechecking pressure forced BC on its heels early, causing turnovers in the defensive zone that eventually led to scoring opportunities for the River Hawks.

This pressure continued on the penalty kill, which saw plenty of work given that the River Hawks took four penalties. The penalty-killing Lowell attacked the Eagles on the power play, leaving few shooting lanes, if any. Those shooting lanes that appeared open were quickly sealed, meaning that few shots managed to find their way to freshman goaltender Tyler Wall. The Eagles were unable to convert on any of their power play opportunities, a trend that has been sorely apparent in recent games.

The River Hawks’ intensity continued to give the Eagles fits through the latter half of the game. All four of Lowell’s goals came from hustle or turnovers. The first was a result of quickness in the offensive zone in conjunction with BC’s lackluster defensive box. The second came from a defensive breakdown that left alternate captain Joe Gambardella wide open in the slot. The third came from a bad turnover in the corner that led to a cross ice pass with one man back. The fourth was a breakaway on a turnover that had Woll scrambling with no help after an incredible, full-split pad save (not his first of the night, either) that left a rebound.

The Eagles’ defense did play well on offense. They poured in shots from the points, leading to 29 shots on net. Savage and Michael Kim consistently hammered home one-timers from the blue line, which eventually led to Austin Cangelosi’s goal early in the second period. The passing between the D-men was crisp and consistent, yet the passing to the slot couldn’t find open men to get more shots on net.

The blue liners struggled in the defensive zone, however, as is apparent in the Eagles’ last five games, in which they have given up 3.8 goals on average. Unforced turnovers in the defensive and neutral zones led to three goals against the River Hawks, and poor defense, which saw BC sitting in a passive box, led to the other. Yes, the defensemen bear part of the responsibility when it comes to creating opportunities in the offensive zones. As is in their title, however, the primary responsibility of a defenseman is playing defense. This they did not do well against the River Hawks.

As of late, Woll has been taking criticism from both casual and dedicated fans for allowing a significant uptick in goals in his last dozen games. He has had his moments that leave people asking, “What was he thinking?” But more often than not, he has moments where his composure, flexibility, and athleticism have prevented goals. Thursday against Lowell, his save percentage was not indicative of his play, but rather of his defense’s. On Gambardella’s second goal of the night, he was left wide open on a breakaway with nothing between him and Woll but ice. Woll was fooled on the initial deke, but stretched the full length of his wingspan to block the driving senior. The rebound from that stellar save sat in front of the net for some time before Gambardella was able to gather it and put two more shots on net, one of which found the twine.

On this breakaway, which was not dissimilar to Gambardella’s later in the game, Woll’s positioning is such that Ryan Dmowski is forced to drop pass instead of shoot. Woll then seals the whole crease with his pads, making two stops without sliding backwards. He then makes a desperate glove slave while sprawled out on his stomach, immediately returning to his posts to set up for more saves. Much improved from past performances, this ought to silence Woll critics and place more blame on the blue liners in front of him. Even Thatcher Demko, BC’s former goalkeeping legend (now playing in the Vancouver Canucks franchise) went through a similar rough patch early in his career, yet he turned out just fine.

When Woll makes mistakes, it’s fair to criticize—it’d be hypocritical of this writer to not. But criticism for Woll on a grand scale is unfounded. Many of Lowell’s opportunities on Thursday were uncontested, high quality shots. Men left wide open are going to score on the best goaltenders in the league—it is the responsibility of the defense to defend the net as well as its netminder.

Featured Image by Lizzy Barrett / Heights Editor

February 24, 2017