10/25/2013 – Michigan 2, Boston University 1, 4-0-1
10/26/2013 – Michigan 1, UMass-Lowell 2, 4-1-1
There was a moment Friday night when BU had scratched out a goal and managed to hold out 30 or so Michigan shots when I looked up at the scoreboard and it felt like that Ryan Miller game oh so long ago, when Michigan bombed a passive Michigan State outfit, outshot them 31-13, and managed to lose 1-0, because that's what happens when you put Ryan Friggin' Miller in Ron Mason anti-hockey. MSU won a game they didn't score in that year. Whenever Michigan doesn't score with a lot of shots I think of that game. If you need to keep me out of your house for whatever reason (mom), just put a picture of Ryan Miller on your doors and windows; I will react to it like a vampire reacts to a cross.
Even so, watching the scoreboard grimly read "0" as the number below it skyrocketed was kind of great at the same time is was monstrously frustrating. Those Michigan teams were killers when not arrayed against Ryan Friggin' Miller. BU was coming off a 7-3 thrashing of presumed Big Ten favorite Wisconsin and for most of the game they could barely conspire to exit their own zone. Michigan was killing those guys everywhere except the scoreboard.
A goal was clearly coming, because BU's guy was only okay, and it did, and was waved off, and came again, and then Alex Guptill got a questionable penalty shot in his favor, and that went in, and clearly everything about those 30-some shots that went wrong was just a fluke and Michigan was going to ride roughshod over college hockey, screaming incoherent things about getting yours for last year.
Fast forward 24 hours and Michigan's coming off a loss in which they put up one goal on 39 shots, that a fluke where the puck popped out in front of the net for Evan Allen to shovel in unassisted. Since no one saw the seven goal explosion against an RIT team, I've watched an awful lot of Michigan hockey this year without seeing many, you know, goals. I have seen a lot of shots that would be goals if goalies were donut-shaped. This may be helpful against Wisconsin, but not at the moment.
At some point the massive pile of shots without corresponding goals is just who you are. That point is… probably after the season. Hockey is random as hell. But we're in the business of extrapolating from small samples here, and this team seems like some of the Hagelin teams where they'd dominate possession, outshoot the opponent on the regular, and sometimes lose because they didn't have an every-night offensive standout.
After last year, the reaction to this is HELL YES, but there was moment on Friday when it seemed like they might take the expectations for them and crush them into a thousand pieces. Michigan scratched out the third period against BU to go 4-0-1 against a brutal schedule, and delusions of grandeur flitted up from below.
The Lowell game was a reality check. They are not mid-90s Berenson vintage. They are a convincing imitation at times, threadbare at others. They seem like a team of Milan Gajics, perpetually on the verge of scoring but somehow never doing so. There's been a lot of that particular hockey-crowd anguish where each subsequent puck that does not go in the net amps up the howling.
I mean, yeah, okay. This team is still a breath of fresh air compared to last year. It's fun watching them lift everyone's stick, fun watching Compher and Motte play the Gardner and Gallon telepathy game, fun watching a harmless shot go at the net and not fearing it will go in. That last one may not actually be fun. It may be more realizing that the possum that had been gnawing your arm for the last decade finally died and fell off. But that's enough to flip a quarter and whistle about.
Sun's out. Time for a stroll. Now someone just put the black disk in the red thing.
[After the JUMP: penalty shots, ref shots, all sorts of shots, shots on shots on shots]
Nagelvoort rides to the rescue
Due to some recording snafus I ended up catching only the final two periods of Friday's game and the third period Saturday, along with the overtimes. Also, the feed FCS picked up looked like an internet stream and it was really hard to figure out who anyone other than Kevin Lohan was even though the announcers tried their damndest to keep us informed. (Seriously, they were great.) I didn't actually see any goals until the Motte winner on Saturday, though I saw replays of some of them. Not enough to write a column, but here are various bullets:
That was probably a good UNH team. The Wildcats were 20-12-7 last year, 13-8-6 in Hockey East, reaching the second round of the NCAA tournament. They lost a couple of their better forwards but returned the vast bulk of their scoring—10 of their top 12—and both goalies. They opened with a solid win over Clarkson in the Icebreaker and then lost 3-2 to Minnesota. By the end of the year that's going to be another quality scalp for Pairwise purposes. Michigan's done a lot of work in just two weeks here.
So far so good for Nagelvoort. Man, when Racine went down with what was obviously a groin issue that I'd be lasts a month or maybe longer (he's definitely out this weekend, and not practicing), dark thoughts flitted through my head. Nagelvoort comes out, my former goalie buddy remarks on how enormous his pads are, and he proceeds to shut UNH out through a rampant third period in which they outshoot Michigan 14-2, with one of those stops an impressive recovery on a penalty shot.
The next night he holds UNH to two goals through an entire game and overtime. Four games in Michigan's save percentage is .937 as a team and Nagelvoort is at .949. Massive sample size disclaimers are of course warranted. It's still the best possible start you could have hoped for minus the Racine injury. Hopefully it keeps up.
Power play: extant. Michigan's 6 of their first 16, a 38% strike rate, and that feels like a sustainable thing since Michigan's been going up against good teams and has been setting up in the zone for extended periods of time. The puck movement is night and day from last year, when their single idea was "get the puck to Trouba." It's too early for me to tell you much else—I get my mind around hockey things slowly.
Recovery. Michigan scrambled their lines for the first time this year after they got pinned in their zone for disturbingly long stretches of the third period on Friday night. They ended up getting outshot nearly 2 to 1 and that was a fair reflection of the play on the ice, if aided by buckets of penalties—UNH had eight power plays. The next night the script flipped and Michigan was better in the last 25 minutes.
Buddies. Michigan's line scramble affected almost everyone but did leave two forward pairs joined: Copp/DeBlois and Motte/Compher. I expect those pairings are untouchable with the success the former has had since its formation at midseason last year—Copp also leads the team in points with 6—and the success the latter's had since their NTDP days. Motte and Compher have already connected on a number of plays that show great understanding of each other and seem like they're more than the sum of their parts when they're on the ice together.
The defense is about what we expected. Bennett is far more aggressive with his puck rushes, Clare's slow speed of thought on the ice gets Michigan trapped in their own zone too often, and Serville continues to make scary mistakes. The freshmen have been a pleasant surprise, especially Lohan, who I figured would mostly ride the bench but has been in the way of a lot of scoring plays. Judgments here are still extremely tentative—ask me again after the upcoming four-game homestand.
Michigan's going to need to get some more playmaking from these guys. Successful passes to set up rushes have been lacking. Four games in the defensemen have four points between them, all of them assists, three of them Clare's.
Nieves stands out. Nieves had the proverbial jump over the weekend; on Friday his line was the primary one generating chances in the final two periods. The shuffle put him with Guptill and Hyman and while they didn't score the line got Guptill seven shots. That is a good guy to get shots; Nieves seems to be emerging. Di Giuseppe, too, seems to be more active this year.
This is the first 5-0 when I've ever felt like "I'm pretty happy hoops/hockey season is starting." Part of that is me being a worry wart about Gardner vs. Road Performances (scroll down). Part of it is the basketball team practice reports are a ticker tape of "youguysyouguysyouguysyouguys!" The last of it is something happened last night that didn't get the proper treatment it deserves. Let me rectify that now.
We Beat Beantown Muppets
And you can't have one without the other...
National title contender Boston College came to Yost last night for the hockey season opener and Michigan beat them 3-1. Washes away last year? Not at all. Changes the likelihood of coming out of a brutal non-conference schedule with enough tournament credentials to make up for a relatively eh Big Ten? Definitely. From people who've gotten to see it I'm hearing Compher is something between a second Copp and a god. Next step is revenge on R.I.T.
HTTVHoops/Hockey contributor MGoBlueline is probably running around in circles after last night. BEFORE last night however they dropped an exhibition 2-1 to Waterloo and that was harrowing.
His response was to experiment with Corsi, a stat named for the guy who came up with it that measures the carry of play by tapping blocked shots and misses as well as shots on goal. It's a think brought up a lot in games Waterloo and every Red Wings loss from 1995-2012, where one team carried the play for two periods and probably earned a draw on the other, but were done in by more than just bad puck. You can make it a % too to come away with an idea of defensive performance:
Theory: fewer pucks end up on goal if the defense is getting in their way.
Weeklies. Best and Worst by bronxblue was effusive in its praise after two weeks and a bye of things to be mad about. At first I didn't get the part about Mitch Leidner being mini-Tebow, but now that I've seen the broadcast oh man: my Sparty brother isn't an RCMB'er but even he was like "wow these announcers just hate your guys." Inside the Box Score by ST3 had about 12 Blues Brothers/Belushi shirts that might have been better than my PSU excuses one. LSAClassOf2000 is just trolling Purdue now. Turnover Analysis says not turning it over=good. Jonvalk went there with the weekly wallpaper, is probably going there for it. Program.
Etc. Bill an I agree: Ohio State and Northwestern only made each other look terrifying.
[Jump: Best of the Board, Zen]
Mac Bennett's projected partner: also Mac Bennett
|Mac Bennett||Sr.||Mike Downing||Fr.|
|Kevin Clare||Sr.||Brennan Serville||Jr.|
|Mike Szuma||Jr.||Nolan De Jong||Fr.|
ALSO: Mike Chiasson (Jr), Spencer Hyman (Fr), Kevin Lohan (Fr)
THIS IS WHERE IT GETS STICKY. The simultaneous departures of Jon Merrill and Jacob Trouba leave Michigan's blue line in a spot that is icky at best. While they've got a couple of NHL draft picks incoming, there's a major difference between Trouba, a top ten pick who is going to make the Jets this year, and Mike Downing, a fourth-rounder who Billy Powers says is "a bit skin and bones" at the moment.
But let's start with the nice bit. MAC BENNETT returns for his final year in a winged helmet wearing the C. He toned his game down last year when he found himself paired with Trouba, eschewing the puck-rushing style he flashed his first two years so that he could be a more reliable defensive partner for a dynamic player. He still put up points at an encouraging rate until he was hewn down in the disastrous 5-1 loss to Bowling Green that seemed to be the last straw for Red. He returned a month later on the second pairing—Merrill's return bumped him—and performed ably down the stretch. Miraculously, his +/- was zero on the year. Despite all his talent, Trouba did not fare nearly as well in that (admittedly wonky) stat.
This year, Michigan needs him to be Trouba, and all-phases crusher who sucks up shift after shift. If Red is ever going to throw over his policy of relatively even time, this is the year. Bennett should be logging Jack Johnson-in-Columbus time, playing all three phases and attempting to shut down the opposition's best on a nightly basis. Powers provided some Fred Jackson-level reassurance when he talked to the Canadiens' official site:
“Mac Bennett will be a dominant college defenseman [this season]. We expect him to be the most dominant offensive and defensive defenseman in the Big Ten. There are no ifs, ands or buts about it,” added Powers. “Every night, there will be someone in the building who will say – ‘That No. 37 is special’.”
Powers also said he's an “elite skater with incredible explosion and incredible endurance"; that latter quality should be put to the test.
Expect a resurgence of the offensive flair Bennett showed his first couple years, because it's not coming from anywhere else on this defense corps and whoever ends up pairing Bennett will be shot if he so much as thinks about getting up ice.
Now, who partners with Bennett? Your options are all frightening on some level. The primary contenders:
- The aforementioned MIKE DOWNING, who has promise and offensive upside but saw his stock drop significantly in his final year of junior and needs to fill out.
- Senior KEVIN CLARE, who provides zero offense (0-2-2 last year, 12 shots), was –9 last year in just 19 games, and was scratched for the final 14 because of disciplinary issues.
- Junior BRENNAN SERVILLE, who seems like he should be more of an offensive defenseman of only because he tends to give you hives with his decisions but is as bereft as Clare is in the points department (1-2-3, 21 shots) and was scratched for 11 games himself last year. But I guess he was +3? Woo?
I'm going with Downing, mostly because I cringe at the idea of Clare or Serville on a top pairing and haven't seen the freshman yet, but I could also see the job going to Clare, since Downing has some offensive upside in his game:
"He carries the puck well out of the zone and makes good decisions on when to hang on to it or move it ahead. Sees the ice well in transition and has a pro pass. He is willing to mix it up, especially when defending down low. He is also very good at moving the puck on the power play. He has a good, hard shot that he gets through to the net, but can and will fake his shot and make a quick pass to the open man. He is not afraid to jump to an open hole on the offensive attack to create scoring chances. He will need to show all of this with more consistency for the next level."
Michigan may want to split those two guys in an effort to have a puck-mover on the ice for most of the game. Clare's just going to sit back, break up plays, and try to get the puck out of the zone, and if he's out there with a lesser guy that could result in spells of uncomfortable pressure.
As for Serville, I'm in full confirmation bias mode with him in which I magnify every mistake he makes. But I'm aware of it and I'm still nervous about having him in a major role. He was a draft pick a couple years back and defensemen take time, etc etc etc. I'll be pleasantly surprised if he makes a significant step forward.
[After THE JUMP: at least they've got a ton of third pairing guys?]