HEY. With searchapalooza over and LeVert out and hockey at least in contention for a bid this year, let's talk about hockey some more.
THE SITUATION. Michigan has put itself in decent shape after a streak in which it's won nine of ten games. Now 13-7, Michigan is 17th in RPI and the Pairwise. To have a chance they'll have to be at least 15th and to feel secure they'd have to hit 12. How many wins that would take is hard to judge. They barely moved after the Minnesota sweep, shot up to 14th with one game over OSU, and now have slid back down to 17 solely because of other teams' activities. It is volatile out there.
A REMINDER. The new jazzed-up RPI is pretty much all that matters. Changes a few years ago have made it very difficult for the Pairwise to deviate from RPI at all:
- there are only three categories
- one is RPI
- one is head to head and a lot of teams don't play each other
- RPI is also the tiebreaker
As a result you have to lose the other two categories to lose a comparison you would otherwise win. That requires losing both head to head and common opponents. This happens very, very infrequently.
THE GOOD NEWS. Michigan's put themselves in a situation where they are more likely to move up rapidly than down. There are four teams behind them within a single point; there are seven ahead of them.
Also, Michigan's heavily away-and-neutral schedule is horrible for fans but good for RPI. One of the tweaks they made a few years back was to weight road wins and home losses at 1.2 and home wins and road losses at 0.8. This is an affront to mathematics—a road win is worth 50% more than home win in a sport with a long-term home win percentage around 55%—and it's hurting Michigan right now since they've played a lot of unfairly devalued home games and not a lot of unfairly valued road games.
Michigan has been trudging through quicksand here despite win after win; the combination of the two above factors means that if they keep the winning up they should get some traction soon.
THE BAD NEWS. The Big Ten is so bad—if the season ended today they would be a one-bid conference like Atlantic Hockey—that Michigan is going to have to win a lot of games to feel anywhere near safe when conference play is over.
Only Minnesota and Penn State have any shot at an at-large, and since to make good on that shot they're going to have to beat the other teams with a shot it looks like the only way the Big Ten gets more than one team in is for one team to run away with the regular season title and then lose in the crapshoot tourney.
The Big Ten is not quite working out like people feared.
THE WISCONSIN NEWS. Michigan's opponent this weekend is shockingly bad. The Badgers have seven NHL draft picks and went 24-11-2 last year; they are currently 2-13-3. They've been outscored 2 to 1 on the season; they have one guy with a positive plus-minus. That is bad.
I would not be surprised if by the end of the year Wisconsin is so bad that even wins over them would lower Michigan's RPI. RPI fixed that a while back by dropping games like that out of the equation entirely (Michigan's wins against American International are already in that category), but even so that means Michigan can't do much other than but go backwards this weekend. A sweep doesn't help much, if at all; anything else provides an anchor in which Wisconsin's schedule becomes a sucking hole in Michigan's SOS.
Irritatingly, Wisconsin is already a problem for Michigan: They took three points from Ferris in a weekend series, beat Michigan Tech one night after losing 8-1, and tied Minnesota last weekend. Each of those non-wins seriously hurts those teams, and by extension Michigan.
The moral of the story: don't expect much.
ROOTING GUIDE. Hold your nose and root for Minnesota the rest of the way. RPI includes a quality win bonus for teams in the top 20 and Michigan has two wins over the Gophers. Also root for Tech and UMass-Lowell, for the same reasons.
Root for Wisconsin to end the season with two wins, because if they are bad enough to get dropped from RPI entirely at the end of the seasons that means they'll have transferred some schedule strength to the rest of the conference, and root for the bubble to collapse.
HARBAUGH HARBAUGH HARBAUGH HARBAUGH.
There. Now that we have that out of the way, let’s break down a mid-season tournament win that featured an impressive victory over Michigan Tech and about what you’d expect against Michigan State.
Michigan v. Michigan Tech 12/28/14
UM 1 MTU 0 EV 06:28 Martin (2) from Hyman (11) and De Jong (4)
Hyman has the puck along the boards, and that causes Sturos (#7) to come down and make a futile attempt to take away the passing lane. He’s far too late, and Hyman easily gets a cross-ice pass off to Martin. The pass gets Tech’s defense skating, as no one’s covering Martin. In fact, no one’s really in position to do so, either. You can see that they have a box-plus-one, and the one is the aforementioned Sturos, who’s now on the wrong side of the ice.
Martin’s shot is going to end up going over the blocker of Tech’s Jamie Phillips, and it’s something that can best be described as a seeing-eye shot. If you look at the black box in front of the goalie, there’s not even a Michigan player in front to screen. This is a shot that just beats the goaltender; I don’t think the Tech defenders acted as screeners either.
UM 1 MTU 1 EV 10:28 Gould from Petan and Kero
Tech moves the puck down the boards and into the corner. Michigan has Downing in front, and he’s smart to not jump in and help but instead stay in front of the net. As you can see, there’s a Tech skater who’s unaccounted for who’s going to play an important part in just a moment, one which will necessitate a defender in front.
Kero (#10) makes an incredible pass from the corner to the trailing man in the faceoff circle. Petan gets the puck and fakes a shot, which causes Downing to drop to a knee in an attempt to block. Petan’s shot fake is superb, and the pass to Gould is perfect. I really can’t blame Downing for trying to block here, because he had about a tenth of a second to decide whether it was a shot or a pass and Petan executed flawlessly.
Racine tries to push across the crease to square with Gould, and in doing so he opens up the five-hole. Gould’s shot is low and just barely clips Racine’s right leg pad, deflecting down and in.
[More after THE JUMP]
Boston College 1 UM 0 EV 05:44 Doherty from Gilmour and Tuch
Teddy Doherty carries into BC’s offensive zone, and as he does this he starts to look to his right. Downing is back to defend and reads the tilt of Doherty’s head; he’s thinking pass and wants to take that away.
The thing is Doherty’s looking at no one. There’s not a BC teammate there for him to pass to, so he’s either going to shoot, turn it back and walk up the boards, or take it behind the net. You can see in the screencap that he’s going to shoot it. He’s loading up his shot, and Nagelvoort has a clear read on it.
Sometimes you lose a one-on-one battle. Sometimes a forward loses it along the boards. Sometimes a defenseman loses it in the neutral zone. Sometimes a goaltender loses it against a shooter. They all can be dangerous, but has as immediate an aftermath as a goaltender losing to a shooter. Nagelvoort butterflies and Doherty puts his shot in the perfect spot; it hits the top corner over the nearside shoulder.
It looks like this is Nagelvoort’s fault. In a way, it is. At the same time, he’s the last line of defense in what should be just that: a line. Downing is concerned with a backdoor cutter and plays the pass, which is textbook. The issue is that there isn’t a guy cutting that way. If he steps up to take Doherty he may not be able to put a body on him in time, but he takes away space from Doherty that he really shouldn’t have. Maybe this causes Doherty to choose one of the aforementioned options (skating it back up the boards or behind the net). My point is that a goal given up is not often solely one person’s fault, and there’s more than meets the eye here.
Boston College 2 UM 0 EV 07:42 McCoshen from Spiro and Gaudreau
Downing manages to pin Spiro along the boards, which is good. He manages to get a pass off into the slot, which is decidedly less good. Nothing terribl3 is necessarily going to come from this, but when you pin a guy along the boards the hope is that you tie the puck up along with it.
Passes in hockey are fast. You’re smart. You already knew that. It’s not completely unusual for a TV camera to snap forwards or backwards to keep up with the play, and that’s what happens here. One thing I’ve learned, though, is that you are in a world of trouble when the camera doesn’t have time to focus before the shot is off. That’s what happens here. Oy.
That screen cap looks worse than it is (maybe). There’s a strategy that teams use where the defense collapses around the goaltender, with the idea being that you’ll be able to pick up netfront opposition and clear the puck if there are rebounds. The downside to that strategy is this: a guy gets an undisturbed shot attempt that the goaltender can’t get a good read on, whether it’s because he’s being screened (see below) or whether he just can’t adjust quickly.
[After THE JUMP: I screencapped something that looks like hyperspace so that might be worth your time]
Michigan 0 OSU 1 EV 10:09 Johnson from Niddery and Stork
Ohio State catches Michigan in transition. Niddery has the puck in the neutral zone and banks it off the boards. Serville is too slow stabbing at it, and the puck gets past him to Johnson. Downing is the lone defenseman back who can make a play.
You can see from the above screencap that Johnson skates the puck out as wide as possible. He’s trying to draw Downing to him and open up space in front of the net because he sees he has a trailing teammate charging the net hard. Downing doesn’t bite, or at least he doesn’t bite entirely. He starts to dive to take away the pass.
Regardless of what happens with this shot Michigan’s not in a good position. It just so happens that the shot it perfect, so the danger of a rebound or a redirection in front is moot. This is obviously a bad goal for Nagelvoort to give up from that sharp of an angle, but he made some otherwise spectacular saves in the first period. Johnson’s shot hits the farside post and deflects up and in for the goal.
Michigan 1 OSU 1 EV 12:49 Hyman (7) from Larkin (11) and Serville (2)
Larkin carries the puck wide, and the defenseman picks him up and moves wide with him. Behind Larkin Hyman skates toward the middle of the ice, giving Larkin someone to center the puck to if the defender over-commits.
Larkin skates just a couple more strides before he drop passes to Hyman. Larkin actually could have held the puck a few more strides, as the defender is still in a position to make a play on the puck. Hyman makes a smart play, seeing that the defender is near enough to him that he’ll have to release the puck immediately to avoid the defender’s stick. You can see from the screencap below that he’s already loading up to shoot, and the puck’s been on his blade for a fraction of a second.
Frye stops Hyman’s shot, but he is unable to glove the puck or absorb the shot. The puck is deflected and goes up and over him.
Larkin has continued his skating arc from the outside of the zone to the inside, and he’s at the side of the net by the time the puck goes up in the air. His positioning pays off, as he bats down the deflection for Michigan’s first goal.
[After THE JUMP: a five-minute-long Christmas miracle]