No love for Illini hockey in weekend losses

Johnny Chiang The Daily Illini Illinois Lucas Scherer goes for the puck during the Friday showdown against Lindenwood at the Ice Arena on February 13, 2009.

Johnny Chiang

Johnny Chiang The Daily Illini Illinois’ Lucas Scherer goes for the puck during the Friday showdown against Lindenwood at the Ice Arena on February 13, 2009.

By Alex Paull

The Illini felt anything but love from No. 1 Lindenwood on Valentine’s Day weekend.

In their first test since five players left for the World University Games in China, the Illini (22-8) fell 4-0 and 4-1 to the top-ranked Lions. But the games weren’t as close as the scores would suggest.

In extending their losing streak to four games and suffering their first home shutout loss in 10 years, the Illini also managed to extend their inconsistent play – taking bad penalties one night and playing more disciplined the next.

The one consistent area during the series was Illinois’ inability to find the back of the net, most notably on the power play.

“The most concerning point for me by far was the power play,” head coach Chad Cassel said. “It is such a huge part of the game, and when the power play is constantly going zero for the night, it makes it tough to win games.”

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Tough may have been putting it lightly. Illinois’ inability to muster anything out of the power play unit was characterized by an agonizing sequence in Saturday’s game. With four minutes left in the first period, the Illini failed to capitalize on a 5-on-3 advantage.

Power play or not, the Illini would have gladly taken any kind of goal. On its way to being outshot 64 to 41 in the series, Illinois was too busy figuring out ways to get the puck out of its own defensive zone to worry about scoring.

Illini goaltender DJ Kohler had his hands full all weekend, battling a constant barrage of shots. Despite his great effort, displeasure wasn’t lost with him either.

“Throughout the weekend, it was not fun,” Kohler said. “I had never lost at home before, so that was pretty disappointing for me. We are missing five of our better players, so it’s going to happen, so we just need to focus on getting the puck out (of the defensive zone) and make better plays.”

Kohler’s contributions may not have happened had starting goaltender Mike Burda not separated his shoulder midway through the second period of Friday’s game. Though his absence may be splitting hairs in the grand scheme of the weekend, it’s still a critical blow to a team that is already trying to compensate for the absence of five big contributors.

“We’re just going to have to see how it is this week,” Cassel said. “For now we will give him all the rest he needs.”

With important games coming up, players are ready to move on and concentrate on the challenges ahead, including a date with Iowa State, a team the Illini are tied with for the No. 4 ranking in the polls.

“The next two weekends are huge for us,” interim captain Jason Nemeth said. “The two home games against Iowa State are huge for us, and then we have the conference tournament, and we need to win that. Coming out to the national tournament, we need a few wins under our belt.”