I missed the official Saturday Night Rewind, so we’ll do it a little differently this week. UND swept Western Michigan with back-to-back 3-2 wins in Kalamazoo, marking UND’s first three-game winning streak since February.
Here are the top five things I took from the weekend:
1. FOLLOWING THE RECIPE FOR SUCCESS
As was discussed in the Friday morning reading post, UND doesn’t have much margin for error and needs to walk a tight line in order to win. These wins were exactly that. UND got outshot both nights, but received great goaltending, production from around the lineup and good special teams. UND played its game to a T.
I thought in the third period Saturday night, UND was tremendous in protecting its lead. Every time it had a chance to get a puck deep, it did. When it could chip a puck out of the zone, it did. Western had a miserable time trying to gain the zone. It wasn’t until a late power play that the Broncos were able to get a scoring chance.
2. ZANE’S CONSISTENCY
We all knew that goalie Zane Gothberg had elite-level talent and that he has the potential to win games for his team. The only thing that lacked was Gothberg’s consistency, which he readily admitted at a press conference two days before the series started. Well, there were no consistency issues this weekend.
Gothberg didn’t let in a soft goal all weekend and he stole several Grade A chances away from Western Michigan — most notably the doorstep chance with 28 seconds left on Saturday night. If UND is going to routinely get outshot this season, it needs its goaltenders to be terrific, and Gothberg was just that this weekend.
3. FACEOFF IMPROVEMENT
On Thursday, I wrote a story about how much UND has struggled in the faceoff circle, especially compared to recent years. Losing draws has been a big factor in giving up some goals this season.
Although Friday started out with UND giving up a faceoff goal, the team ended the weekend winning the faceoff battle on both nights, which is no small feat for this squad. What changed? How did UND win faceoffs two nights in a row (albeit not by much)?
The first change was the return of Mark MacMillan to the lineup. MacMillan, who figured to be UND’s top faceoff guy this season, has missed the last few weekends with an injury. He went 22-16 on the weekend.
Also, UND moved Rocco Grimaldi to center and Drake Caggiula to wing on that line. Grimaldi, who had struggled with draws at times last season, went 23-18 on the weekend, going over .500 both nights. That was important and it appears that the faceoff circle is a place where Grimaldi has improved his game.
4. SHOWING THE SKILLS
While I mentioned that this team isn’t as skilled as past teams, UND does have a couple of guys who are very skilled and they have been showing it the past few weeks — Grimaldi and Jordan Schmaltz.
Grimaldi has been, hands down, the best player on the ice in each of UND’s last two road series. He was creating all over the ice in Kalamazoo. He made a brilliant setup for Luke Johnson for the go-ahead goal Friday and he scored the eventual winner on Saturday. He was really good.
UND usually asks rookie defensemen to be efficient and reliable in their first year. Schmaltz did that. Now, as a second-year player, we’re starting to see some of his high-end abilities. He’s able to create a rush with his skating ability. He’s joining the rush at great times. His point shot rarely gets blocked by the forward who is covering him. Schmaltz is showing why he’s a special player and the points are starting to come, too.
5. SPECIAL TEAMS SUCCESS
It seems like UND’s power play is starting to come around. It has scored a power-play goal in five straight games.
On Friday, UND scored two power-play goals and held the Broncos scoreless on seven power-play chances. That was the difference in the game.
While Western won the special teams battle 2-1 on Saturday, there were two big keys for UND: 1. It got a power-play goal after a rough opening five minutes to tie the game and settle the team down. 2. Western had a five-on-three for an extended time during the second period and was unable to score. Major key to the game there.