Miami rode an impressive defensive effort to a 2-0 shutout victory over St. Cloud State on Friday evening. Matt Joyaux's even strength goal at 7:08 of the second period opened the scoring and held up as the game-winner. Riley Barber would add to the lead 8:42 into the second period when he took a face-off win from teammate Austin Czarnik and fired the puck off the post and into the net. The point for each of Miami's dynamic duo kept them tied atop the national scoring chart alongside St. Lawrence's Greg Carey with 15 points on the season.
Miami goalie Ryan McKay was stellar all night, making 31 saves to earn his 4th victory of the season, and second shutout of the year.
A few notes and thoughts from the game:
-Miami's incredible team defense was the star of the show tonight. St. Cloud attempted 72 shots on the net, with only 31 of them making it to McKay. Miami was credited with blocking 17 of them, but it certainly felt like a lot more. More importantly was how beautifully Miami defended after the first shot. When St. Cloud was able to get a shot through to the net, it usually wasn't a high quality chance, but more of a shot intended to draw a rebound. Miami did a tremendous job of locking down on guys in front of the net and keeping them from getting a stick on a second, or third opportunity.
-The other big story on the night was how incredible Miami's top line of Austin Czarnik, Riley Barber, and Jimmy Mullin continue to be. By unofficial count, Czarnik and Barber played 19 shifts at even strength, five on the power play, and five while shorthanded. If you figure they average 45 seconds per shift--and that might be a tad conservative--that puts them at 21:45 of ice time on the night. And Miami got a chance to rest them a little bit late, once they got the two-goal lead.
Surprisingly, Czarnik was sub-.500 on face-offs for the night(8 for 19), but won the one that counted when he generated that huge second goal in the third period that proved to be a dagger. Czarnik was dangerous in every aspect of the game. We'll have more on both Czarnik and Barber later next week.
-If there was a turning point in the game, it came early. St. Cloud got off to a fast start, and on the second shift of the game, had their best scoring chance of the night when Andrew Prochno took a feed from behind the net and fired a one-timer that hit the post. If St. Cloud goes up by a goal just over a minute into the game, like they did last spring, it's probably an entirely different game. Instead, the game dragged on without a score until nearly the midway point of the game, making that first goal more and more important. When Miami got that lead, it felt like St. Cloud had to climb a mountain to get back into the game.
-Official attendance was announced at 4533. The building felt mostly full, but there were plenty of empty seats, especially along the ends of the sidelines. There wasn't quite the atmosphere you'd hope for two top ten teams facing off, but there's a lot of other factors to consider. It's still early in the hockey season. There were a lot of local high school football games going on, including one across the street. A lot of people took off for the north for the hunting opener. And any time the home team gets shut out, there's just not going to be a lot of energy in the building. Still, the atmosphere at the National Hockey Center has really declined over the past few years.
- I do think there were some positives for St. Cloud tonight. Despite losing Nick Jensen to the pros over the summer, I think their defense might actually be better this year. There's a lot more depth than they had last year. Kevin Gravel has stepped up and looks like a much more confident player as a senior, while players like Andrew Prochno, Tim Daly, and Ethan Prow have made big strides as well. Ryan Faragher had a strong game as well, even though he was over-shadowed by McKay's excellent performance. Faragher made a couple beautiful saves late in the second period to keep the score at 1-0, and give St. Cloud a chance in the third period.
-That said, I do see some cause for concern with the Huskies on offense. Miami is a team that can make anybody look bad with the way they play defense, but the Husky offense just isn't clicking yet. There's a lot of goal-scorers in their line-up, but they're really missing an elite playmaker like Drew Leblanc to help set up those goal scorers. Kalle Kossila is probably the closest they have that could develop into that role, but right now, he's more of a stickhandler than a passer.
-For you Fancystat fans, St. Cloud held a 51-33 even strength shot attempt advantage, for a 61-39 Corsi number. Some of that is skewed by a 21-10 advantage in the third period when Miami backed off with a two-goal lead, but I'd buy that St. Cloud probably had a 60-40 edge in terms of zone possession. The difference, however, was Miami finding a way to capitalize on the opportunities they had, and doing a tremendous job limiting St. Cloud's advantage with some tremendous shot blocking and defensive play in front of their net.