The Gophers had been hounded enough about the power play. They knew their special teams weren’t where they needed to be and spent most of the week attempting to solve the problem. The extra attention led to a 4-1 victory over in-state rival Minnesota State Mankato on Friday night at Mariucci Arena.
Connor Reilly scored a Gophers’ power-play goal. His brother, Mike, helped assist the goal, scored one of his own and was a big part of the Gophers’ six penalty kills.
Linemates Nate Condon and Justin Kloos each had two points. Condon assisted on a pair of goals and Kloos scored one and assisted on one.
“I think our power play finally started to click a little bit. We got good zone entry, a lot better than games past,” Mike Reilly said. “That’s something a lot of people have been hounding us for, is that our power play has been lacking. I think we got some momentum out of it [on Friday].”
Special teams had been a significant area of concern the first month of the season. The Gophers had given up eight power-play goals, three last weekend. They were even worse on their own power play, scoring just five goals in 36 opportunities before Friday night.
Rotating combinations appeared to work well for the Gophers on Friday, though. They even found success in a 6-on-5 Minnesota State Mankato advantage when it pulled its goaltender for the final minutes. Seth Ambroz picked off a pass and scored an empty-net goal.
Connor Reilly was the biggest difference on the power play. Coach Don Lucia mixed the forward into practice combinations, citing his willingness to shoot for the opportunity. Connor Reilly didn’t let his coach down.
The Reillys produced their first Reilly-to-Reilly goal as Gophers teammates on the power play. Defenseman Mike Reilly fed Sam Warning, who found Connor Reilly waiting patiently for the one-timer.
Connor Reilly said it was a special feeling to connect with his brother on this stage.
“We know that our power play and penalty kill isn’t what we want it to be at, so we worked on that this week and did some different things and moved some different players in. I thought Connor ... looked really good over there on the flank. He has a good shot,” Gophers goaltender Adam Wilcox said. “So I think we got a good start and can have a rest of the good way here with our special teams.”
The Mavericks’ lone goal against Wilcox was the result of a nifty assist by Jean-Paul Lafontaine late in the third period. The forward dove for the loose puck and pushed it from the behind the goal through a teammate’s legs and onto the stick of Zach Palmquist, a former high school teammate of Wilcox, for the open shot.
Outside of this goal, Wilcox frustrated Minnesota State all night. The Mavericks outshot the Gophers 35-30, but their best looks were spoiled by Wilcox.
Wilcox’s workload came in spurts. The Mavericks got off several shots in the first minutes of the game and then went without a shot during the middle part of the first period.
Minnesota State Mankato struggled to produce offensive pressure early on, while the Gophers lived in their offensive zone. Lucia said this edge won the game for the Gophers in the first two periods.
Kloos scored the game’s first goal while streaking down the middle at 10:31 in the first period. Condon’s wraparound assist set up the goal.
Condon also was responsible for assisting on the Gophers’ second goal, this assist not as pretty. He dodged out of the way as Mike Reilly rushed in for the score.