ASU hockey is scoring like last season's team but is failing to prevent goals

The Sun Devils' offense is producing at a similar rate compared to last season's 22-win team, but their defense needs to improve to win

ASU hockey will begin the second portion of its season against No. 1 Minnesota on Sunday and Monday, embarking on a second road trip to play the final 16 games of its 28-game schedule against Big 10 opponents.

Although the team currently stands with a 4-6-2 record, the wins and losses themselves do not tell the entire story of how ASU is performing. The team is scoring at a similar rate compared to last season, but its defense is lagging behind.

“We knew (this season) was going to be tough," senior forward Willie Knierim said. "Our team has done a good job of encompassing the road warrior (mindset) and just really embracing the grind."

Two overtime losses to Penn State, a loss to Notre Dame where ASU allowed a goal in the final five seconds of regulation, and ties against Ohio State and Michigan State cumulatively prevent ASU from having one of the more impressive records in college hockey if it won each game.

The Sun Devils' offense is "built way different," head coach Greg Powers said, compared to last season when it had a significant share of its offense created by defensemen who didn't return this season. But they added several players to their forward group to make up for the departures.

"We weren’t nearly as deep through four lines from an offensive skillset standpoint last year as we are this year," Powers said. "We are a team that now relies on our forwards to do (the main) share of our production, and they have been.” 

Even with the change in roster composition, the Sun Devils still score at a similar rate compared to last season.

ASU scored 37 goals through the first 12 games last season, compared to the 36 they have scored this season through the same number of games. 

According to linear forecasting projections based on ASU's scoring pace through the first 12 games of last season, the team was poised to end game 28 of the 2019-20 season with 91 goals, eventually scoring 89.


2019-20 and 2020-21 actual totals pulled from College Hockey News.

Using the same projection from 12 games this season, the Sun Devils are on track to end the 28-game campaign with 93 goals.

"Especially (considering) the lack of offense we had the first four games, to really catch up to what we were doing last year, that’s really good," Knierim said.

ASU finished last season scoring more points than it was linearly projected to finish with based on their first 12 contests; a late surge in scoring toward the end of the season helped it finish with 335 total team points, something Knierim noted and hopes the team could replicate this season.


2019-20 and 2020-21 actual totals pulled from College Hockey News.

While the scoring seems to be coming at a similar rate compared to a season ago, the Sun Devils cannot say the same at the defensive end.

ASU has allowed 42 goals this season, a rate of 3.5 goals per game. ASU allowed its 42nd goal on game 18 in 2019-20.

At the current pace, the Sun Devils could allow nearly as many goals as it did last season, 97, despite playing eight fewer games.

"We need to be better defensively, and certainly, it’s a huge focus," Powers said. "We talked about openly getting more timely saves from both goalies, which we need, and strength of schedule. (When) you play an all-Big 10 schedule on the road, you’re going to give up some goals."

Five of the seven Big 10 programs rank in the top 20 in the nation in goals scored.

However, ASU's struggles do not purely come from faulty goaltending. Both junior Evan DeBrouwer and freshman Cole Brady are both putting up average numbers but understand there is much more to improve upon.

"We have to be better," DeBrouwer said. "I think we feel like we could be in a lot better position than we are now, which is upsetting but also encouraging at the same time." 


2019-20 and 2020-21 actual totals pulled from College Hockey News.

DeBrouwer enters the second portion of the season with a 3-4-1 record, a .918 save percentage and three goals against average.

"The consistency isn’t there like it usually is so far," DeBrouwer said. "My first periods have been my worst periods this season. There's been, I think, three games in a row (where) I gave up two goals in the first period."

Though DeBrouwer acknowledges the team is in new territory with respect to their conference-only schedule and allowing more goals, he is not getting overwhelmed by the numbers.

"If you focus on the statistics as an athlete, then that can get really dangerous because you can’t just focus on the results," DeBrouwer said. "You have to focus on the little things and focus on the type of goals you’re giving up ... and if you fix those, then automatically, that will take care of the statistics."

ASU will continue to face some of the best teams in the nation. Minnesota, who has allowed just eight goals in eight games, will host ASU four times in January. 

Despite the elite competition, the Sun Devils look to find the win column at a greater frequency than they did through the first 12 games. They still have their offense on their side, but their defense has to catch up.

"We’re just really hungry to get the last 16 games going,” Knierim said. "We just have to stick to the game plan and put together a full 60 or 65 minutes if need be, and just play how we play. If we do that, we’re a really good team.”  


Reach the reporter at aklatsky@asu.edu and follow @averyklatsky on Twitter. 

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