Before the Gophers-Colorado College series last weekend, Gophers coach Don Lucia said the penalty kill had to get better. It did. The Tigers, who came in with the WCHA's best power play, were zero-for-eight with the man-advantage.
But that doesn't come close to telling how dominant the Gophers' penalty killers were. CC had 14 minutes, 22 seconds with a man advantage on its eight power plays and had only five shots on goal while the Gophers had three and a goal.
Two of the Gophers' top penalty-killers are third line teammates Nate Condon and Taylor Matson. Condon has four short-handed goal and had two breakaways on special teams against CC. He was not successful Friday, but scored Saturday. He has four short-handed goals, which ranks second nationally.
"They are both extremely fast and they can ... get going in a hurry," Lucia said, referring to what they do on turnovers. "You saw that in North Dakota where Taylor just tapped it up to Nate. He had the breakaway. Nate had a breakaway on Friday night short-handed, too, and the puck just rolled on him when he was about to shoot. Saturday night he was able to make the play."
Condon scored his fourth short-handed goal the second night. Onlly one player with five has more. Matson has one short-handed goal.
"We've got some pretty good tandems on our penalty kill right now," Lucia said. "We use Condon and Matson, they are probably are A-plus penalty killers. We like to use [Jake} Hansen and [Erik] Haula. We like to use [Nick] Bjugstad and [Kyle] Rau. And we like [Tom] Serratore and [Trevor] Boyd. So we have two guys on all four lines.
"I try not to use as much as I can, Haula and Hansen and Rau and Bjugstad on every penalty kill," Lucia said. "I'd like to be able to come back with one of their lines after the penalty is over."
The Gophers have the 17th best penalty kill nationally, at 84.4 percent. But is is the best in the WCHA, just ahead of Bemidji State at 84.0.
"In many ways, we are mirror images the way we play the game," Lucia said, comparing the Gophers and CC. "The games are usually up-tempo, they are highly entertaining. There were some very good players on the ice last weekend.
"I thought it was pretty well played both nights. Exciting."
Lucia said he was disappointed the Gophers let a tie turned into a defeat on Friday. "A three-point weekend would have been great," he said, "but we were able to keep them four points behind us.
"Kent [goalie Kent Patterson] the last couple weeks has really looked sharp. And we need that. The good thing for us is, we are still in pretty good shape. We obviously have to win some WCHA games here down the stretch to maintain our positioning and try to get the best seed we can come playoff time."
Lucia said he also liked the way his defensemen played this past weekend. "We didn't give up double digit shots in any of the six periods against CC who averges 30-some shots a game," he said. "That was a real positive for us as well."
The Gophers fourth nationally and first in the WCHA in scoring defense; opponents average 2.07 goals per game against them.
THE DON SAYS
* On late goal last Friday: "That's like losing in overtime, basically. In some ways, you would rather lose a game by three than lose it that way because it is not so emotionally draining."
* On splits last two weeks with North Dakota and Colorado College: "I liked the way we played. The hard part for us is, we just didn't score enough. We lost to North Dakota 2-1, we lost to CC 2-1. We just need some guys to start rolling a bit offensively."
FIVE AND FIVE
The Gophers have only 10 conference games left, five at home, five away. This weekend they have a home and home series with St. Cloud State and have tough road series at Denver and Nebraska Omaha. They have home series left with Bemidji State and Wisconsin.
"We have put ourselves in pretty good shape as far as home ice, but you still have to continue to win," Lucia said.
The Gophers are in first place in the WCHA, two ahead of UMD. The top six teams get home ice for the first round of the WCHA playoffs.
* The three top power play teams in the WCHA are Denver at 23.6, CC at 23.1 and the Gophers at 22.6. They are bunched at Nos. 8, 9 and 10 nationally.
* Four of the top six scoring teams are in the WCHA: 1. UMD, 3.96 GAA; 2. Gophers, 3.81, 5. Denver, 3.54 and CC, 3.50.
* Sophomore center Nick Bjugstad is second in goals nationally with 20, tied for ninth in points with 32. ... Linemate Kyle Rau is second in points among freshmen with 25 and in goals with 13. He is tied for fifth in game-winners with five.
* Defenseman Nate Schmidt is tied for fifth in assists with 24 and is second in points among defensemen with 26.