MARQUETTE - Heading into Northern Michigan University's series at Ohio State last week, senior forward Matt Thurber said the Wildcats' power play was "not awful."
The numbers now and then say otherwise, but don't necessarily tell the whole story.
"The number of penalties we've taken and the number of minutes we've taken have put us behind the eight ball at times," NMU head coach Walt Kyle said. "We've taken way too many 4- and 5-on-3 (penalties). We've had guys who are penalty killers taking penalties."
Northern Michigan senior defenseman Kyle Follmer, shown here on Nov. 3 against Michigan at the Berry Events Center, leads NMU in penalties with eight for 16 minutes. (Journal file photo by Zach Jay)
Battered, bruised and in the basement of the CCHA, the Wildcats return to Marquette tonight and tomorrow to host the Alaska Nanooks at 7:35 p.m. both nights at the Berry Events Center.
In four games in the state of Ohio over the past two weeks against the Miami RedHawks and Ohio State Buckeyes, NMU picked up one league point in a shootout loss to MU while dropping the other three contests by a combined score of 11-4.
The Wildcats went into their back-to-back 12-plus hour bus trips to the Buckeye state ranked No. 16 in the nation with a 4-3-1 overall record and 1-2-1 mark in the CCHA.
Now the 'Cats are unranked and in last place in the CCHA at 4-6-2 overall and 1-5-2 in league play.
According to Kyle, penalties - specifically the pair of five-minute majors accessed to Thurber and junior forward Erik Higby for contact to the head last week - and an ineffective penalty kill are very much to blame for the slide.
"(Higby and Thurber's majors) are the big glaring ones to me," Kyle said. "I think I was OK with the rest of the stuff that went on. Those penalties really hurt us when you look at it puts you down for five straight minutes and behind the eight ball.
"It's tough. We're a little bit shorthanded so the amount of penalty killers available is less which means fatigue creeps into those guys who are usually your best players."
Prior to the Wildcats' series against Miami and OSU, the team had been whistled 44 times for 88 minutes in eight games, resulting in 27 power play chances for the opposition and six power play goals going into the NMU net.
Those stats have since doubled in just four games.
In the state of Ohio the past two weeks, Northern committed 33 penalties for 88 minutes, resulting in 24 power play chances for MU and OSU. The Buckeyes and RedHawks scored on seven of those chances with two goals coming on two-man advantages.
The 176 penalty minutes or 14.7 minutes per game average is the 18th most in the nation and fifth most in the CCHA.
Senior defenseman Kyle Follmer leads NMU in penalties with eight for 16 minutes, followed by senior forward Brian Nugent and junior defenseman Wade Epp with seven for 14 minutes each.
Thurber leads the team in penalty minutes with 21, followed by Higby with 19. Both of their numbers are boosted by the 15 minutes that comes with a five-minute major and the 10 minutes for being kicked out of a game.
"I don't think our penalties have been as big of a problem as our inability to kill the penalties," Kyle said. "That makes it look a lot worse than it is."
NMU's penalty kill now ranks 56th in the nation out of 59 teams with a 74.5 percent kill rate after being 57th a week ago. The PK is second-to-last in the CCHA ahead of Bowling Green State after being last in the league prior to the OSU series.
It's a stark contrast from last season when seniors Justin Florek of Marquette - now with the Providence Bruins in the AHL - and Andrew Cherniwchan - who is with the South Carolina Sting Rays of the ECHL - anchored an NMU penalty kill that was second in the CCHA and fifth in the country with an 86 percent kill rate.
"We really miss Florek and Cherniwchan up there," Kyle said. "Those were two really experienced guys. We have to get some guys to fill those spots.
"I don't think our group of defensemen as a whole are playing as well as we anticipated they would. In that situation, you get victimized a little bit."