The Ohio State men’s hockey team has put together two straight weeks of play that have prompted coach Steve Rohlik to say he’s “disappointed” in the outcomes. The Buckeyes are 1-1-2 in its last four games and are ranked No. 14 in the country.
But it’s not the record that has Rohlik and the team not living up to the standards they set in the offseason, it’s the ability to execute on the penalty kill and finish scoring chances.
On Saturday against the University of Connecticut Huskies, OSU followed up a comeback win on Friday with 49 shots on net. However, the back end of the weekend double-header ended in a 3-3 draw.
“We probably played our best game of the year, besides the Denver game, as a team, and I think we felt pretty good about that,” Rohlik said. “That’s by far the most quality chances — and I’m talking point-blank chances — and we just didn’t finish.”
The Buckeyes allowed two goals in the first period last Saturday, both were power-play goals. OSU ranks last in penalty kill in the NCAA, killing off only 72 percent of opponents’ power-play. Rohlik has said since the beginning of the season that wins and losses for the Scarlet and Gray will be decided on the play of the special teams. OSU’s power play ranks near the top of the NCAA, but Rohlik insists that OSU has work to do on that end as well.
“Special teams … it’s going to make or break you and eventually it’s going to catch up to you,” he said. “Certainly right now we have to correct some things.”
The Buckeyes travel to Troy, New York, this week for a two-game series against the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. OSU senior goaltender Christian Frey will make the trip, having started in his first two games since being injured for nearly a month. Frey only practiced a few days before Rohlik placed him between the pipes against UConn.
Frey faced 42 shots in two games and made 35 saves.
Frey told The Lantern that he suffered a groin strain during the team’s second regular-season game against Air Force in the beginning of October. He underwent treatment for four to six weeks before returning to the ice for practice. Now with a full week of practice under his belt, Frey is expected to start in net for the Buckeyes on Friday night.
“It was preventative too. It’s early in the season, if I needed to come back earlier, I probably could’ve battled through it,” Frey said. “I felt really good this week in practice so hopefully this will be a good week. I feel like I’m 100 percent healthy.”
The RPI Engineers are 2-8-1 in the 2016-17 campaign with a minus-14 goal differential. The Engineers also rank among the worst defenses in the NCAA having allowed 3.55 goals per game.
The Buckeyes lead the nation with 4.55 goals per game, which has been a safety blanket for the lack of production on the penalty-kill unit thus far.
On special teams, RPI junior defenseman Jared Wilson is tied for second in the nation with four power-play goals on the season, while senior forward Riley Bourbonnais ranks among the top in shorthanded goals. The RPI penalty kill is successful almost 90 percent of the time, which supports Rohlik’s claim that the game will be won on special teams.
Senior forward, and team captain, Nick Schilkey continues to be a nightmare for opposing defenses. Schilkey collected the Big Ten Conference’s first star of the week after a five-point week against UConn, including the game-winning goal last Friday. He is second in the country in goals scored, tied first on the team in points and owns a rating of plus-12. Schilkey said with the team having the week off after RPI, this is a great opportunity for the team to empty the tank and make a statement.
“Right now we have a good start as a team right now and the points are coming along, but we just got to stay focused and keep working hard,” he said.