NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. — Merrimack continued its successful work on the power play, scoring three goals with the man advantage Friday night in a 4-1 victory over Quinnipiac in front of a small Thanksgiving break crowd at the J. Thom Lawler Arena.
Brendon Clark, Steve Crusco and Nick Pomponio all tallied power play markers as the Warriors went three for eight with the man advantage. Merrimack has now scored 12 of its 22 goals in the month of November on the power play.
“We’re trying to keep it simple,” said Merrimack head coach Chris Serino about his power play unit that entered the game ranked 16th in the nation. “When we keep it simple, it works. When we try to be fancy, it doesn’t work that well.”
The Warriors used Friday two totally different power play looks: an umbrella using three defensemen on the top unit and a two-three forecheck and setup from the second unit. All tolled, Merrimack uses five different defensemen on its power play units, and according to Serino, he feels that is playing a major role right now.
“The key is that we have pretty good defensemen,” said Serino. “No matter who we put out there on the power play I think they’re good power play defensemen and I think that’s what makes your power play good.”
On the other side of the coin, Quinnipiac coach Rand Pecknold was unable to put his finger on exactly what made his penalty kill struggle on Friday night. The team had killed at a somewhat successful 83.3 percent clip on the season entering the game.
“We talked about [Merrimack's] power play all week,” said Pecknold. “My penalty killers usually play with a little more energy than they showed tonight and usually win a few more battles.”
Equally as dissatisfying for Pecknold was the lack of offense generated by his club’s power play unit. Despite four man advantages, the Bobcats only generated five shots on the power play compared to Merrimack’s 20.
“Our power play was poor and that was the difference in the game,” said Pecknold. “We’ve definitely got to make some adjustments on the power play because it was just atrocious.”
All of Quinnipiac’s struggles on special teams came despite its ability to kill off two 5-on-3 power play for Merrimack. The first came early in the opening period when Tom Morrison and Reid Cashman were each sent off a minute apart. Merrimack appeared to have scored early in the man advantage when Brent Gough slid a rebound past Quinnipac netminder Justin Eddy (31 saves) but assistant referee Mike Taddeo ruled that the net was dislodged before the shot and the goal was disallowed.
After returning to full strength, Quinnipiac was able to neutralize the Warriors somewhat, allowing only seven shots in the period but at the same time wasn’t able to get anything going offensively.
“If we’re going to beat Merrimack we’re going to have to have all 19 players going hard and ready to compete,” said Pecknold. “I thought we had 13 or 14 going tonight who all played hard but that’s not enough.”
After the scoreless first, Merrimack broke through offensively in the second, scoring three times in five and a half minutes to take control of the game.
Clark got the Warriors on the board just after the first player had returned for Quinnipiac on a 5-on-3 shorthand. Still down a man, the Bobcats had allowed a handful of perimeter shots that had either sailed wide or were handled easily by Eddy. An Eric Pedersen shot from the right point, though, was block in the high slot allowed Clark to gather the puck and feather a shot just inside the left post that Eddy never appeared to see.
Less than three minutes later a 14:23, Crusco made a nice individual effort, crossing the blueline 2-on-1 and making a move to give him enough space to shot. His hard snap shot sailed through a partial screen and over Eddy’s blocker for the 2-0 lead.
Rookie Justin Mills scored the only even strength goal for the Warriors, netting his first career goal at 17:11 to give Merrimack a comfortable 3-0 cushion.
After Quinnipiac’s Morrison snapped a shot off the right post and in early in the third period, the Warrior power play closed the door for certain when sophomore Nick Pomponio batted a rebound out of mid-air at 5:31 to retake a three goal lead that wouldn’t never be threatened.
For Pomponio, it was his first goal since October 24 — the fourth game of the Warrior’s season. Clark hadn’t scored since November 8 against UMass and Crusco since November 1 against Rensselaer.
“The whole team has been in a slump going through a tough time,” said Crusco about Merrimack’s scoring woes. “We needed upperclassmen to step up and lead by example on the ice and I think a bunch of guys did that tonight.
For Quinnipiac, the loss was its first since ending a four-game losing streak in late October. That four game skid was comprises of losing two games sets at Michigan and Wisconsin — with three of the four losses coming by a goal. Obviously Pecknold felt his club played much better in each of those series.
“Against Michigan and Wisconsin, both Friday night games we came out with a lot more energy than we did tonight,” said Pecknold. “We’re not talented enough to play without that energy.”
The two teams will complete the two game set in North Andover on Saturday night, and Serino is prepared to play a Quinnipiac team that will look for instant revenge.
“I’m sure [Quinnipiac] is going to come out fired op and all ready to go tomorrow,” said Serino. “I told our guys that there are two things that can happen. We can either build on this [win] with a long way to go and try to keep getting better or we’re going to think we’re pretty good an go backwards again.”