Under coach Dave Pietramala, Johns Hopkins has built a reputation for fielding imposing defenses that made life difficult for opposing offenses. That tradition may continue after this season, but the unit’s play in the No. 12 Blue Jays’ two losses have suddenly given cause for concern.
In the team’s five wins, opponents have averaged just 7.2 goals, 31.6 shots and 18.4 shots on goal. In the two setbacks, opposing offenses averaged 12 goals, 36 shots and 21 shots on cage.
The 24 goals that No. 6 Syracuse and No. 11 Princeton combined to score is a number that doesn’t sit well with senior defenseman Tucker Durkin.
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“That’s definitely too many goals,” he said. “That’s not what a Hopkins defense is all about, giving up that many goals. But at the same time, although we need to fix that, we’re not going to look back and worry about it. We acknowledge that it’s something that needs to be fixed. We’re giving up too many goals in those games, and we’re ready to move forward and start playing better on that side of the ball.”
Against both the Orange and Tigers, the defense looked slow and often surrendered high-percentage shots that senior goalkeeper Pierce Bassett couldn’t turn away. In Saturday’s 13-8 loss to Syracuse, Johns Hopkins’ defensive players couldn’t keep up with the Orange, and they were forced to abandon their traditional man-to-man scheme for a zone defense.
“Did I think we would need to zone that much? Absolutely not,” Pietramala said. “I thought we would defend them better. I do have confidence in our abilities. But as a coach, you’ve got to find ways to put your team in positions to be successful and obviously, what we were doing at that point and the way we were executing was not acceptable. So you’ve got to make a change. We felt like we did not give our goalie much of a chance early. So we needed to give him a chance to kind of settle into the game. We went to zone. It tended to force Syracuse to stand around a little bit more. It certainly surrendered time of possession, but I do think us moving to that allowed us to kind of get our feet underneath us, get a couple stops, and get the ball to the offense and allow the offense to get into some rhythm, which in the first quarter they were absolutely not.”
The zone defense is an unusual look for the Blue Jays, but Durkin said the players are comfortable with the scheme, which could be employed against No. 13 Virginia (5-3) this Saturday in the second game of the Konica Minolta Face-Off Classic at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.
“We’re practicing it all the time during the week, and whatever he thinks is going to work against a team, Coach Pietramala is one of the best at making in-game adjustments,” he said. “He felt the zone might be a better fit at that point in the game. We jumped into it, and I think we’re fairly confident when we jump into our zone. We practice it during the week so that it’s nothing new for us. We’ve played it before in the past. So I like to think that our defense is pretty comfortable.”
Johns Hopkins has shown glimpses that it can keep opponents off the scoreboard. The Orange, for instance, scored just two goals in the second quarter after opening the game with six in the first period. But Pietramala said the defense must be that stingy over the course of a game, not just a 15-minute quarter.
“My level of concern is with our inconsistency,” he said. “There are moments in those games where we’ve shown the ability to set forth what we wanted to do – to follow a game plan, execute it, to get stops. We’ve also shown an inability to be very consistent. So is our inconsistency there a concern? Sure it is. You need to be consistent and you need to play a game for 60 minutes. I don’t think we’ve done that. So that is something that we’ve tried to address in practice.”