LEWISTON – The chances were plentiful. They have been for the past few games. But turning those chances into goals has been elusive for the Niagara Purple Eagles.
Once again they dominated in shots on goal, controlled puck possession for large stretches of the game but ended up with another 3-2 setback to the Mercyhurst Lakers at Dwyer Arena Saturday night.
The Purple Eagles held a 78-43 advantage in shots over the weekend series, but couldn’t get much past Mercyhurst goalie Adam Carlson.
“The story of our weekend unfortunately is their goalie,” Niagara coach Dave Burkholder said.
“I thought the Grade-A chart,” for scoring opportunities “was in our favor. There were a couple wide-open nets where he came across the crease … we’re in tough spot. We’re not scoring. We’re squeezing it. But you’ve got to keep telling guys that 88 attempts and 43 shots on goal is usually good enough for a win.”
Niagara took a 1-0 lead, finally breaking an 0-for-23 power-play slump. Stan Dzakhov went to one-time the puck but whiffed. Instead it became a kind of pass, landing on the stick of Sean King, who fired it home early in the first period.
But then Mercyhurst struck back, taking a 2-1 lead by the end of the first and extending it to 3-1 in the second, prompting Burkholder to change goalies, pulling freshman Joe O’Brien for junior Jackson Teichroeb. The idea was to spark the team and it worked at times.
The Purple Eagles cut the lead back to one when Dzakhov stole the puck at the offensive blue line and Derian Plouffe went in alone on Carlson, who misplayed the puck enough for Plouffe to sneak it into the net.
Carlson “made one mistake in 120 minutes,” Burkholder said. “I’m saying the Plouffe goal, he’s a gift goal scorer but it snuck through him. Other than that, he was perfect.”
Niagara racked up the scoring chances, throwing pucks at the net. But nothing was getting past Carlson.
“It definitely gets in your head every once in a while but we just have to block stuff like that out and keep doing what we’re doing,” said Dzakhov who had two assists and a team-high six shots. “I think our work ethic was pretty good this weekend. We were better in what we call the man’s club, which is the area in front of the net. We were getting shots through from our D’s. Just gotta get a little more lucky and keep doing what we’re doing. We’re going the right way.”
Niagara may be going the right way in quality of play, but the Purple Eagles are still struggling to find wins. They’ve dropped five straight and fell to 3-10-1 in Atlantic Hockey and that has Burkholder watching the team’s mentality closely.
“It’s as low as it’s been in the room and I don’t blame them,” Burkholder said of the team’s mentality. “But it’s our job as staff that we’ll pick them right up again on Monday. … Again we’ve been saying it all along and hopefully these guys believe because we believe in this team as a staff. If you stick with it and the way we played Friday-Saturday against that team, we should be sitting here with two W’s. They had a 10-minute push in the second period. Other than that, not even close.”
It doesn’t get easier, but it does get more emotional as Niagara plays rival Canisius on Thursday (7:35 p.m.) and Saturday (3:05 p.m.) in HarborCenter.