Maine hoped to capitalize on nearly eleven minutes of extra-man play – and the Eagles’ temporarily stick-less goaltender – in Sunday’s matinee against No. 10 Boston College.
The Black Bears, however, never had a chance.
Maine’s power play struggled mightily against the Eagles’ intractable penalty kill, failing to score in five man-advantage opportunities and bringing their power play production to a woeful 0-for-12 for the series.
The Black Bears even failed to convert on a 6-on-5 when they pulled netminder Dan Sullivan, allowing BC winger Barry Almeida to pot an empty netter – his first goal of the season – at 17:51 in the final frame to put the Eagles up 4-1.
But Maine’s inability to solve Eagles’ goaltender John Muse with the extra man was never so obvious as the Black Bears’ failure to score during BC blueliner Edwin Shea’s hooking penalty at 2:27 in the third period.
The Eagles withstood intense pressure from Maine’s power play unit – including a blistering shot from forward Joey Diamond from the right corner. Diamond, who already has two power play goals this season, could not find the net, even when Muse temporarily lost his stick and the replacement he grabbed from BC defenseman Patch Alber.
After the blanking at the hands of the Eagles, the Black Bears’ power play (6-for-43) is tied for sixth with Merrimack in Hockey East, with a conversion percentage of only 13.95%. And what’s worse, Maine has only converted three of its last 34 power play opportunities in its last five games, a success rate just shy of 9%.
While not making excuses for its man-advantage struggles, the absence of Will O’Neill and Jeff Dimmen on the penalty kill hurt the Black Bears. Both defensemen, who figure prominently in Maine’s special teams, sat out the series due to lower-body injuries.
“[The power play] was better tonight,” Maine coach Tim Whitehead said. “But there’s no doubt we missed [Will] O’Neill and [Jeff] Dimmen on that.”
Maine’s struggles, however, are not solely to blame for its poor showing on the man advantage.
“BC has a great penalty kill,” Whitehead said. “They’re exceptional, they’re aggressive, and they put pressure on us. They have some real good depth on their team. And one of the things that’s very impressive is that they can use guys in all situations. Guys that may not be on the power play are providing great leadership on the penalty kill and that is something we are striving for.”
BC’s penalty kill unit, currently second in the nation, has killed 64 of 71 power play opportunities. In fact, the Eagles have stymied their opponents 90.1% of the time, just a fraction of a point off of Niagara’s nation-leading 90.2% success rate.
One key to BC’s success in avoiding power play goals is its depth on special teams.
“We can go almost all the way down the bench killing penalties,” BC coach Jerry York said. “It’s not just always Cam [Atkinson] and Brian [Gibbons], we’ve got Billy Arnold and Barry Barry Almeida, [Jimmy] Hayes and [Chris] Kreider…so we’re getting pretty deep there.”
On the heels of his 68th career victory and his 10th career shutout, Muse continues to be BC’s not-so-secret weapon on the penalty kill.
“A lot of [the penalty kill] reflects back on John [Muse],” York said. “He made some really good saves over the course of the weekend but especially on power plays. … The 0-for-12 was more of a result of our excellent goaltending and some timely blocks by our defensemen.”
With the sweep of Maine, BC’s first series win since downing Denver twice on October 15-16th, the Eagles have jumped the Black Bears and moved into second in the Hockey East standings. Unless Maine finds a way to solve the Eagles’ impenetrable penalty kill, the Black Bears’ winless streak against BC — Maine last defeated the Eagles 2-1 on November 9, 2008 — will likely continue.