Power play fails to convert as Illini hockey gets swept

Heading into the power play, No. 9 Illinois (11-4-1) trailed No. 1 Lindenwood 2-1. Five minutes earlier, Illinois swung the momentum its way when a firm pass from Daniel Cohen on a 3-on-2 Illini breakaway set up forward Sam Fatigato’s fifth goal of the year.

“The turning point for us was in the second period we had all the momentum,” Illini head coach Chad Cassel said. “We had the five minute major power play and didn’t convert. You’ve got to do that at home in a one-goal game. I thought that the first couple minutes of the power play were good, and the last two or three minutes of the power play really weren’t very good.”

After going 3-for-6 on the power play in their 6-3 loss to the Lions on Friday night, the Illini went 0-for-5 in a 4-1 defeat Saturday. The special teams as a whole struggled in both games, as the Illini allowed Lindenwood to convert on 5 of 11 power play tries.

“Our power play was so good (Friday) because our guys, we’ve been on them just to get the puck moving,” Cassel said. “‘Move the puck, move the puck move the puck,’ (Saturday) we kind of resorted back to holding the puck too long. By the time we would try to make a play there would be someone in your face and they are taking away different passing lanes.”

On both nights, Illinois allowed a Lindenwood 5-on-3 advantage. The Lions scored on both opportunities and did not appear fazed by the Illini power kill.

“I’m a true believer that you create your own luck,” Cassel said. “They’re a great team and they are getting pucks that are bouncing off our defenseman and going in. But they are getting it to good areas, and they are shooting the puck when they are supposed to. When you do that good things happen, and it did for them and not for us.”

The Illini offense continued its disappointing trend of missed opportunities. In Saturday’s 4-1 loss, Illinois could only net one goal in 26 shot opportunities.

“Part of it is winning battles, we’ve got to bear down in front,” freshman forward Austin Bostock said. “We can win the battles in the corner, win the battles to get the puck out (of the Illinois zone), win the battles to get in (the zone), we get in the corner and we get possession. Our cycle has been great. But it seems like as soon as the puck goes toward the net, those battles are the most important and those are the ones we haven’t been winning.”

Bostock was one of the few players who did win his battles. He scored two power play goals Friday night, both of them rebounds in front of the net.

“Each guy brings something different to the table, and so far this season me being in front of the net has been my job,” Bostock said. “We’ve got a really fast team, and we like to use our speed. I got the bounces (Friday) in front of the net, but just being in front of the net is very important.”

While the Illini special teams unit was inconsistent over the weekend, Cassel regained some consistency between the pipes. Friday, starting goaltender Angelo Sakellaropoulos returned from a torn MCL.

“I came in not expecting it to feel as good as it did, and I feel almost fully recovered,” Sakellaropoulos said. “I try to not to think to much. If you start thinking as a goalie you get yourself all psyched out of the game. I try to stay focused.”