The Arizona State Sun Devils (7-7) suffered another setback to their NCAA tournament aspirations this past week, splitting a two-game set against the 20th-ranked Bemidji State Beavers (8-6) at home.
ASU, which entered the series rated 32nd in the nation according to the NCAA’s PairWise ranking system, desperately needed to come away with a sweep against the Beavers to get its season back on course but was undone by a lackluster defensive performance in game one and ultimately had to settle for a split.
Goal scoring was not an issue for the Sun Devils, who rank eighth in the nation in goals for, as forwards Demetrios Koumontzis, Josh Doan and Colin Theisen each registered three or more points during the two-game set. ASU also played a largely clean series, committing just six manpower penalties (ones that resulted in power plays for the opposing team) across the two games.
However, the Sun Devils’ continued inability to keep pucks out of their net, whether at even strength or on the penalty kill, once again prevented them from gaining ground in the tournament race. Bemidji State’s power play was allowed to tee off on ASU goaltender Ben Kraws, scoring on four of its six trips to the man advantage.
As a result of the eight goals it allowed against the Beavers, Arizona State now ranks eighth-worst in the country in penalty kill efficiency (72.8%) and goals against (54). Although goaltending was less of an issue in the Bemidji State series than poor penalty killing and lackadaisical defensive zone coverage, ASU’s team save percentage of .895 (36th out of 59 teams) is also cause for concern. Kraws has been the more consistent of the Sun Devils’ two netminders but has a lower save percentage and fewer quality starts than Cole Brady, who has experienced a sophomore slump after a solid freshman season. Either way, ASU’s defensive play is likely to keep them out of the postseason if not addressed quickly.
To make matters worse for Arizona State, other teams competing with them for spots in the tournament, such as Connecticut, Cornell and Northeastern, all registered big wins over the weekend, making the Sun Devils’ path to the playoffs even rockier. Matchups against eighth-ranked Denver and 13th-ranked Clarkson loom large, and the Sun Devils will need to kick things into high gear or risk falling out of the race entirely.