OXFORD, Ohio – Groundhog Day may not be for another week, but Miami has lived through it the past eight days.
On Friday – for the third straight game – the RedHawks jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period, but once again they were unable to secure the win, falling 3-2 to No. 5 Denver at Cady Arena.
The Pioneers (16-4-5) cut the deficit to one late in the first period, tied it in the second and scored the game winner early in the third.
Kohen Olischefski netted the first two DU goals and Griffin Mendel notched the decisive tally.
Carter Johnson and Bray Crowder found the net for Miami (6-13-4), the first of the season for each and Crowder’s first career goal as a RedHawk.
MU is winless in four straight games and 2-7-1 in its last 10 while Denver extended its unbeaten streak to 10 (7-0-3).
RECAP: At the 5:20 mark of the first period, Miami’s Ben Lown centered a pass from along the boards to Chase Pletzke, whose point-blank shot was saved, but the rebound jumped over his stick and was rifled home top shelf by Johnson.
The RedHawks went up two when Matt Barry emerged from a scrum along the boards and found a wide-open Crowder with a cross-ice feed, and Crowder buried the one-timer into the open half of the net with nine minutes left in the opening frame.
Three minutes later, Denver’s Cole Guttman connected with Olischefski all alone at the top of the crease on the power play, and Olischefski shifted from the backhand to his forehand and poked the puck through RedHawks goalie Ryan Larkin on the power play.
The Pioneers tied it on the man advantage just 2:26 into the middle stanza as Guttman took a pass in the slot for a one-timer, and his shot was blocked but the loose puck trickled to Olischefski, who batted it just across the goal line inside the near post.
Mendel fired a shot from the top of the faceoff circle with 13:45 left in regulation, and it appeared Larkin had made the save cleanly, but it trickled through his pads and into the net to put Denver ahead.
STATS: Larkin set the all-time career saves record for Miami. He broke the previous record of 2,975, held by David Burleigh (1999-2003).
Larkin needed nine stops to eclipse Burleigh’s mark and turned 30 shots aside on the night. He now has 2,997 for his career, three short of becoming the first goalie in RedHawks history to record 3,000 saves.
— Crowder’s goal, the first of his career, gives him five points in his last 12 games.
Johnson scored for the first time since March 2, 2019, and it was his first point since Nov. 23.
Pletzke, Lown, Barry and Phil Knies were all credited with assists for Miami.
Pletzke has 12 points in 13 games, including eight assists.
Barry earned his third point in six games since becoming eligible.
Lown and Knies both have three assists in five games, and Knies also has a goal in that span.
— Miami gave up two power plays and has surrendered six man-advantage goals in its last four games, as its penalty killing percentage dropped to 75.3 percent.
— The RedHawks have scored 12 times in the first period in their last six contests. Of their nine goals in their last three games, seven have come in the opening frame.
— Opponents have scored in 10 straight periods vs. Miami.
THOUGHTS: On this homestand, Miami has trailed for 18 of 185 minutes but is 0-1-2.
When leading 2-0 in the first period three straight games, especially on home ice, ultimately earning just one of a possible nine league points in difficult to swallow.
Closing out games has been an issue for RedHawks teams for a decade, and recently the issue has resurfaced for the 2019-20 version.
A shot that Larkin would’ve wanted back decided the game, but Miami’s offense did little after the first period and it just didn’t feel like the RedHawks were going to pull out a win, even if Larkin did stop that shot.
— The first period was very choppy, with Miami taking what seemed like 100 icings, and with over five minutes left in the stanza, a pane of glass behind the Zamboni end net shattered and had to be replaced, delaying the game by about 10 minutes.
The RedHawks escaped that frame with a one-goal lead but were stymied offensively the last 40 minutes, generating just 13 shots.
They had one power play the whole game, during which they barely spent any time in the offensive zone and struggled even to string together passes.
— Credit definitely goes to Denver, which appeared every bit as fast and talented as North Dakota, and the Pioneers did not get rattled when they fell behind.
DU pretty much shut down the CKG line (Casey, Karch and Gordie), which has been Miami’s main source of offense this season. The trio combined for nine of the RedHawks’ 23 shots, but all went minus-1 as they were on the ice for the third-period game winner.
And that line seemingly played every other shift all night.
— The first Pioneers goal kind of epitomizes the season. Two MU skaters chased one DU skater at the point, and since it was a power play, that means Denver had four skaters covered by two in the rest of the offensive zone.
That’s why Olischefski was so wide open so close to the net that Larkin could smell what he had for his pregame meal.
— Mike Babcock said – although the phrase likely did not originate with him – that penalty killing takes no skill. That may not be completely true, but the point is that intelligence, guts and hard work can make any team competitive in that area.
Miami is down to 75.3 percent on the PK, the seventh-worst clip in all of Division I.
On Friday, the RedHawks lost by one and allowed two power play goals in three opportunities.
FORWARDS: D+. Just not the crisp passing or overall intensity we saw from this corps vs. North Dakota, especially in the final 40 minutes. The CKG line was shut down and none of the other lines shined. Barry played a strong game and is now on the top power play, and Johnson, dressing for the third time in four games, had one of his better nights this season. This group took two penalties – one on John Sladic and the other by Scott Corbett – and the puck ended up the back of the Miami net both times.
DEFENSEMEN: B-. Rourke Russell was the star among this group as he seemed to be all over Denver skaters the entire game, especially early. Crowder scored and has made huge strides in his positioning and staying out of the box. After a nightmarish first half in terms of injuries, Alec Mahalak finally looks 100 percent and is on the second power unit, and Grant Frederic appears much more confident than he has in the past and is playing as well as he has his entire career, exceling at getting the puck out of dangerous areas and winning boards battles.
GOALTENDING: C-. The elephant on the ice is that critical third goal, but Larkin made some excellent saves and he certainly isn’t the primary cause for this one going into the loss column. The first goal was scored when a DU player was left alone at the top of the crease, and the second was on a loose puck in heavy traffic that Denver batted in. It’s a shame that on a night he was honored for setting a school record that he would surrender such a high-profile goal, as he would’ve finished a B or B+ if not for that third one and possibly earned a win or a tie.
LINEUP CHANGES: Corbett returned from injury after missing the last four games, and defenseman Alec Capstick was back after being banged up and sitting the last two.
With that duo back, Christian Mohs and Andrew Sinard did not dress. Mohs had played in six straight, and it was the second time this season Sinard was not in the lineup.
— Ryan Savage is still out with a lower body injury, missing his fourth consecutive contest.
— In net, Ben Kraws played last Saturday, but Larkin was back between the pipes for the fifth time in six games.
STANDINGS: Miami is now seventh in the NCHC, two points ahead of Colorado College and three behind St. Cloud State and Omaha, who are tied for fifth.
Western Michigan holds that all-important No. 4 seed and is 10 points ahead of the RedHawks.
— MU dropped to No. 42 in the PairWise, down one stop from last weekend.
FINAL THOUGHTS: It’s been extremely encouraging to see Miami compete with high-end Division I teams this season after being blown out so many times by the NCAA’s elite in recent years.
But the RedHawks are struggling to take the next step, which is earning critical points in league play.
The frustration of earning 1 of 9 in these last three home games that were toss-ups until the third period, all games in which Miami led, 2-0 in the first period, is augmented by Denver and Western Michigan’s recent hot streaks.
Denver is 7-0-3 in its last 10 and WMU is 3-0-1 in its last four, and as a result the RedHawks are now 10 points out of the final home spot in the NCHC Tournament.
With an at-large big to the NCAAs a near impossibility, the only realistic chance Miami has of snapping its national tournament drought is by winning the league tournament.
And that becomes a Sisyphean task when a team is buried in the bottom four and has to win a best-of-3 road series just to advance to the semifinals of the NCHC championship.
Not to take anything away from what this team has accomplished, relative to where it was in the winter months of 2018-19, especially with this four-game homestand coming against the Nos. 1 and 5 teams in Division I.
But for the RedHawks to have any hope of an NCAA berth, they need to figure out how to lead at the 60-minute mark and not just the 20.