further adventures in Jed York being unsuited for his position
69 minutes. Nice.
That could have gone worse. The strange split in Derrick Walton's jumping. MAAR/Dawkins flashes, realistic expectations, why rejecting moral victories is for the men in the arena and we can go ahead and accept them.
FIIIIIIREWAGON. Hobey talk, Pairwise talk. Ace expounds at length. Ladies, please don't drive off the road. Can we please decide on how to pronounce JT Compher's last name?
We welcome in Steve Lorenz of Wolverine 247. Steve is very good at talking about recruiting and horrible at marketing himself. Commits! And guys we think are going to commit in the near future!
"Across 110th Street"
"Here Comes The Sun," M. Ward
"Future Husbands Past Lives," White Sea
THE USUAL LINKS
Back in the day I had a brief period as an Edmonton Oilers fan. (Long story short: never had much of a Red Wings connection since I grew up in pre-Avs Colorado and Edmonton had Mike Comrie.) This was at the point where they had one of the most bizarrely popular players in the league, Georges Laraque.
The French-Canadian was more province than man, kept on the team to grind on the fourth line and facepunch people. He had one more skill than that, though. If provided the puck along the boards in the offensive zone, he could keep it there indefinitely.
This had almost no utility. Laraque couldn't do much of anything once he had established possession. He was too slow to threaten to take the puck off the boards himself and not skilled enough to pick out his teammates. Even so it was a thing to see: Laraque fending off increasingly enormous piles of opposition players as the arena got more and more fevered about something that would never, ever lead to a goal. In this it was like his fighting, there to entertain in a way totally orthogonal to the stated goal of hockey.
When Zach Hyman started doing this at the outset of last season, it had a Laraquian feel to it. He was stuck on three points a third of the way through the year and no amount of cheerleading from this space made a difference. At that point Hyman was a guy who had a great season as an overager in junior but had done nothing to suggest he was going to replicate that through 60% of his career at Michigan.
And then he started walking into the slot.
Michigan's weekend was a rote walkover introduced by a penalty-induced hangover. I've been on both sides of games like Friday where the ice tilts towards the losing team and no lead seems safe, and by the time Michigan scored to pull within 1 late in the second period that game felt like a Michigan win.
The way it transpired is quickly becoming familiar. Hyman walked off the wall again, flicking the puck to the far side of a goalie worried about a wrap-around attempt. Then Michigan marauded through the slot for the go-ahead goal and the double-tap to make sure Wisconsin's zombie upset bid was well and truly dead. They'd solved prominent goaltending issues by removing them from the relevant section of the game. An empty-netter felt appropriate as an extra-point exclamation mark.
Saturday's game was over two minutes in when Michigan had scored twice and chased Joel Rumpel to the bench in world-record time. By the time Michigan scored to go up 5-0 early in the second period they were barely celebrating. After two periods shots were 37-9.
Even Wisconsin's frustrated after-the-play Standard Hockey Goonery felt obligatory. It takes a remarkable mental state to shove someone without meaning anything by it, but by the third period Wisconsin was doing it solely by reflex, thinking about what they would watch on Netflix after the game.
Eliminate Tony Calderone's five minute major and this weekend wasn't a hockey series. It was a reason that Michigan should be forced to wear body cams when on duty.
Hyman's surged into serious Hobey Baker contention in a way I don't think I've ever seen a Michigan player do so. Previous dominant Hobey types have mostly been the little puck wizards that felt like Michigan's birthright for most of the 90s and aughts. Brendan Morrison was an NHL-sized version of those guys, Kevin Porter a gentleman who scored buckets of goals without being dominant in any particular facet of the game.
All of these guys reached the point where you look for them to hit the ice because they are generating chances every shift. Most of them did so by having the puck on a string. A guy like Hyman, who is so physically dominant he creates most of his chances off the cycle, is a new thing.
He's a good metaphor for the team as a whole: eventually overwhelming. Michigan shoves line after line at you—they have eight guys on or within a couple points of a PPG, and that doesn't count NHL Draft second-rounders Boo Nieves and JT Compher. Every time they go for a line change someone you don't want to see is coming over the boards.
They do have to get their act together on defense. The goalies' flagging save percentages are not entirely their regression. Michigan's giving up grade A scoring chances with alarming regularity. Not so much this weekend, but Wisconsin is truly, bogglingly bad.
Even so at this point you have to wonder if they can outscore anyone. The 80s called, offering their hockey again. All aboard the firewagon.
Michigan's sweep did count for something, as they moved up about four tenths of a point despite Lowell and Minnesota (teams that give them quality win points) having bad weekends. Wisconsin has a solid SOS (4th in RPI terms) and that helps them remain somewhat relevant. Then the road multiplier kicks in.
That four tenths of a point corresponded to a whopping five-spot move in RPI/PWR because the teams immediately in front of Michigan had horrible weekends, with three getting swept and a fourth taking just one point.
Michigan is now solidly in the tournament but vulnerable to backsliding. They're barely a point above the 16 slot which is guaranteed doom.
Suggestion: keep winning. Michigan has 12 games left in the regular season and probably has to go 8-4, maybe 9-3 to feel secure entering the Big Ten Tournament. Given the way they've been playing and the way the rest of the Big Ten has, that's not too tall an order.
Pile 'em in. Michigan has surged to an enormous lead in scoring offense, a full six tenths of a goal past #2 Robert Morris. Last year's leading offense, BC, was at 4.1 GPG; Michigan is at 4.4. BC got their piles of goals thanks to 80-point Hobey winner Johnny Gadreau.
PPGs. Those eight(!) guys at or a couple points away from a PPG: Hyman, Larkin, Copp, and Motte are past that pace. Kile and Werenski are one and two points short, respectively. And after a five-point weekend featuring a Friday hat trick, Justin Selman is at 5-6-11 in just 11 games.
This goal was rightfully disallowed. Kile got a little bumped here but yeah:
I wasn't expecting that to stand after one replay.
Goalie issues. The BTN announcers made a great deal about Michigan's goalie issues this year, which I thought was pretty simplistic given the sheer number of grade-A chances they'd faced but then both goalies gave up horrendous goals on Friday and now that I'm poking at the numbers… yeah. Nagelvoort is 50th of 80 qualifying goalies on CollegeHockeyStats and Racine is 74th.
These things can turn around quickly—Racine was horrible the first half of his freshman year and put up a .920 the rest of the way—because you need a pile of shots before save percentage becomes statistically meaningful. Michigan's going to have to hope someone steps forward as we approach the stretch run. It's Nagelvoort's turn for a while, it seems.
Selman? Selman's been one of my argh-play-him-more favorites. Sometimes these work out (Hyman), sometimes not so much (Lindsay Sparks), but a five point weekend on the wing of Selman and Larkin probably buys him a few more weekends as the third wheel there. Selman brings a net-driving presence on a line that generates a lot of chaos and rebounds, and he seems like a good fit there.
Already prepping to pump Selman as next year's upperclass breakout forward, which has been an annual tradition (Rohlfs, Scooter) until recently.
Larkin. Hyman is carrying that line and has been all season but Larkin is obviously contributing, and he's contributing on a higher level since the GLI break, where he was one of the best forwards on the WJC team. Larkin reminds me a bit of Max Pacioretty, who wasn't particularly noticeable during the first half of his only year at Michigan but absolutely blew up in the second half. Larkin's adding some flair to his game now that he's comfortable with college and his line.
Sinelli on defense? Michigan listed Andrew Sinelli as a defender this weekend, leading to weird things like a box score featuring "XD" as a position for Nolan De Jong. Michigan rotated through its centers for extra shifts on the fourth line—when those guys are Compher, Copp, and Larkin that's not a bad idea—and played with what they were going to do on the back end.
I liked Sinelli as a defender last year. I actually thought he was a top four guy for them. He's not great shakes as a forward with the puck but for a defenseman he's very capable in that department, and while he's small he was generally in the right spot. That would be a large improvement for Michigan's defensive corps.
I'd keep an eye on that going forward, especially since Michigan is going to plug Lynch back into that fourth line center spot when he gets back. Given the Michigan offense a solid senior like Sinelli might be preferable to a guy who has more upside but offers up more WTF moments.
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]