Ohio emphatically responded to its biggest problem of the season Friday night.
The Bobcats’ power play, which had previously scored just five times all season, scored five power-play goals en route to a 7-3 win over Davenport at Bird Arena.
“I told you guys it was coming,” forward Gianni Evangelisti said with a smile. “I told you we were going to have a breakout night.”
Before Friday, there was nothing powerful about Ohio’s power play. It carried just a nine-percent conversion rate and struggled to find space, passing lanes and, most importantly, shots on net.
But those characteristics completely vanished Friday because of an odd-looking penalty kill approach from Davenport. The Panthers looked content with keeping all four of their skaters tight around the net, which gave Ohio more space on its power play than it had seen all season.
The Bobcats wasted no time capitalizing on the scrambled Davenport penalty kill. Ohio buried four power-play goals within the game’s first 40 minutes to give itself a comfortable 5-2 lead before the third period.
The increased space allowed Ohio’s power play to finally address the concerns coach Sean Hogan had expressed about his team’s man-advantage struggles.
“We’re finally shooting the puck,” Hogan said. “When we have the puck in the middle of the ice, we’ve got to shoot it. That’s what we’ve got to continue to do. I think for a while there, we were static. We weren’t shooting the puck, and we were holding it too long.”
Defenseman Jake Houston was surprised at the look of Davenport’s penalty kill as he stood with the puck just below the blue line. The sophomore played on Ohio’s first power play line and played a key role in controlling the flow of his team’s passes.
Houston found it easy to be patient among Davenport’s stagnant defenders. He tallied a goal and an assist on Friday — both came from the increased time he was given from the Panthers.
“I honestly don’t even know what they were running,” Houston said regarding Davenport’s penalty kill. “At first, they were charging me and trying to take away time and space, but that wasn’t working out for them, so they started to collapse a lot more.”
As a result, Ohio battered Davenport with shots each power play and created opportunities that were sparse in previous man-advantage opportunities.
The time and space also helped the Bobcats convert one of their best passing sequences of the year. As Davenport looked to clear its defensive zone, Houston intercepted the puck and made a pass to forward Gabe Lampron at the blue line, which triggered a shortened odd-man rush as the Panthers’ defenders exited their zone. Lampron made a drop pass to Evangelisti, who passed it through Davenport’s remaining defender to forward Bryan Lubin.
Lubin tucked the puck into the net before Davenport’s goalie could slide across the crease. The play notched Ohio’s third power-play goal of the night and gave it a 4-2 lead.
“That’s probably the top (passing sequence of the season) that I can think of right now,” Evangelisti said.
Ohio’s weak power-play numbers have been the only sizable blemish mixed with its 10-2-1 record. After Friday, the Bobcats feel assured that the power-play conversions will only increase.
“Our chemistry was really good,” Houston said. “We moved (the puck) a lot quicker. … We had an understanding of where we needed to place the puck or what someone else was going to do, so we kind of have that chemistry going now. ... It took a couple weeks to find, but now we know where each other are going to be, and we’re starting to get a good feel for it.”
Ohio will look to complete the sweep against Davenport on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. in Bird Arena.