Denver swept by Minnesota Duluth in uninspired 4-1 loss

Photo courtesy Shannon Valerio/Denver Athletics

DENVER – The #4 Denver Pioneers (17-6-5, 7-5-4-3) are a top-10 team for a reason. They have talent up and down their lineup, they have depth at every position, and their ability to play a 200-foot game of hockey is nearly unmatched. It’s for those reasons that their record is as good as it is this late in the season. But this weekend, especially in the second game of their series with the #10 Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs (15-9-2, 10-4-2-0), the Pioneers lacked those very same factors en route to losing 4-1 as the Bulldogs finished off the sweep at Magness Arena. It’s the first time the Pioneers were swept at home since St. Cloud State managed the feat in December 2015.

The Pioneers were the better team at even strength a night ago as they have been for most of the season. They put up 41 shots and held UMD to 27 but the penalty kill couldn’t get the job done as DU’s kill gave up three power-play goals by the Bulldogs. On Saturday night, though, Denver looked like a hollow shell of the team that has won 17 games to this point. There was no inspiration and despite an altogether solid game by goaltender Devin Cooley, they couldn’t find the drive or will to stay with the Bulldogs. All told, the Bulldogs spent much of the night skating circles around the Pioneers and DU had no answer.

Denver kept the game close for most of the game thanks in large part to Cooley’s effort in the crease. Even defensively, until the third period, the Pioneers played well enough to keep hopes for a win alive. It was in the offensive zone and on the rush that the Pioneers looked uninspired and dashed their own hopes of a weekend split. There was little to no puck pressure and even though the Bulldogs frequently retreated into a defensive trap, Denver’s speed advantage didn’t matter on often disjointed rushes and unsupported possessions.

As a result of Denver’s poor offensive performance, that left the defense with zero room for error. And when you’re playing a team like UMD, even at home, a nonexistent margin for error is a recipe for disaster. And, as you can judge from the final score, disaster struck. Jackson Cates scored on a neutral zone defensive error by the Pioneers in the second period before UMD capitalized on poor defensive zone coverage just 39 seconds into the third period.

Denver pulled back to within a goal on a power-play goal from Emilio Pettersen but it wasn’t enough to pull the Pioneers out of their funk as the Bulldogs quickly answered with a power-play goal of their own. UMD added an empty-net goal with about two minutes left to seal Denver’s fate and leave the Pioneers staring in the mirror with a bye week ahead of a looming trip to Grand Forks, North Dakota in two weeks.

It was a tale of two games for the Pioneers this weekend. UMD didn’t play well and Denver did on Friday except UMD escaped with a win. On Saturday, Denver played poor, uninspired hockey and UMD stepped up their game and the result was predictable. As well as Denver had played over the past two months, this weekend exposed the Pioneers’ flaws. With just eight games left, much like their offense tonight, Denver has given themselves no room for error the rest of the way. The Pioneers remain at #4 in the Pairwise rankings and that is unlikely to change much between now and March, but it won’t matter what seed the Pioneers earn for the NCAA Tournament if they keep playing like this; their season will end in Loveland.

Highlight

Postgame Comments

David Carle:

4 thoughts on “Denver swept by Minnesota Duluth in uninspired 4-1 loss”

  1. Ugh. Getting swept at home is a huge, loud, blaring wakeup call for the Pioneers, and I would hope that the players have a closed-door meeting among themselves to decide what kind of performance level they would like to have in the final eight NCHC games before the playoffs.

    Tonight’s DU legs were stale and nowhere near what they were last night, and when UMD adjusted and turned up their own intensity, Denver failed to match it, despite the sellout crowd at home. The Pios’ feet were not really moving, turnovers were common and the first DU six power plays were pretty dreadful.

    DU is now winless against UMD this year, winless against North Dakota and 1-1 against Western Michigan, the three teams above the Pios in the NCHC standings. Those are telling stats.

    This weekend, the effort level was just not there on Saturday night when it needed to be. Special teams remains something of a horror show, although the Pios did look better in the PP in the third when they finally scored.

    Both Chrona and Cooley played solidly this weekend, but neither was elite, as both gave up a softie that you can’t give up at playoff time and expect to advance. Both goalies need to give up no more than 2 goals per game, and neither did this weekend.

    Coach Carle now gets an extra week to prepare DU for a trip to Grand Forks, where the Pios will need to show that they can play with the best. I hope we see a 60 minute effort each night in Grand Forks, as well as sharper special teams, and better goaltending.

  2. A lousy performance last night to cap off a very disappointing weekend of hockey, at least results-wise. Despite the loss on Friday, I felt really good about what I saw, the PK notwithstanding. DU was the better team for sure. Last night was a different story–Pios were flat and sluggish and the compete level wasn’t there. It was a head-scratching performance and tough to watch. I kept waiting for someone to make a play to get the team going, but it never happened. Then Pettersen finally got DU on the board and I thought, ok, here we go, Pios are going to take over. But again, the Pios just didn’t have it last night. And the special teams this weekend were anything but special.

    The 11-game unbeaten streak has come to a thudding halt. DU is now tied with WMU for 3rd place in the conference with 28 points, although 4th in the standings. As Puck Swami noted, DU is 1-5-2 against Duluth, the Sioux, and WMU, the 3 teams ahead of them in the conference. That’s an unsettling stat. Carle had a interesting post-game comment, saying this Pioneer team has the makings of a championship team, but isn’t there yet. Look no further than the 1-5-2 record against the top 3 NCHC teams for confirmation on that.

    Hard to believe, but there are only 8 games left in the regular season. A huge challenge looms in two weeks, after the bye: a trip to Grand Forks. I really wish DU didn’t have a bye next week.

    Have to give a lot of credit to Duluth. Those guys are the real deal, and they haven’t won back to back titles just by getting lucky bounces. They are talented, well-coached, and can beat you in a variety of ways. They can skate and pressure offensively, bang and grind in the corners, they capitalize on opponents’ miscues, and they have an elite goaltender who is poised and always ready to make the big save. Friday night was a perfect example. DU was the better team, but UMD took advantage of their PP opportunities, Shepard was terrific, and they escaped with a W. That’s what elite teams do. They will be very tough once again in the postseason.

  3. This weekend was tough to endure. Saturday was the most discouraging game this season. Not sure if the boys will be able to shake this off and give UND strong competition, but know they must if they are to get their mojo back. (A few lucky bounces for a change would certainly help.)
    The way it’s beginning to look, once we get to Loveland in March let’s hope there are no other NCHC teams in the western regional.
    If not, DC and his boys may have a chance to sneak into Detroit.

  4. I am sure I am going to get some push back on this but here goes.

    I think possibly part of the problem has to do with the coaching style. David Carle, while a nice guy, seems to have a very laid back approach to coaching. You could always sense with Monty and Gwoz that they had no problem getting under a player’s skin if they thought the athlete was giving less than their best. I know David has benched several players for their lack of effort but does more need to be done? Watching Saturday night’s game was a painful experience. Most of the team was just going through the motions. No sense of urgency, no fire. It wasn’t just for a period, it was for the entire game. The problem has been you never know which team is going to show up. This was evident this past weekend and during the ASU weekend.

    As much as I dislike UND, you can’t dispute the fact that they bring it almost every night.

    No more excuses. You have a job to do, go do it.

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