Mason NEEDS this, Pistons, after all you've put him through
1/10/2013 – Michigan 2, Wisconsin 5 – 10-5-2, 2-1 Big Ten
1/11/2013 – Michigan 1, Wisconsin 3 – 10-6-2, 2-2 Big Ten
Well… I suppose we have to talk about what is going on with the hockey team. On December 11th they had a fun, uptempo game with a very good Ferris State outfit that ended in a 2-2 tie. They were 10-2-2 on the season, and while it was obvious they'd been the beneficiary of some good fortune they seemed like a pretty good team.
Fast forward… wow, over a month, and Michigan has lost four straight games in extraordinarily difficult to watch fashion.
- In the opener of the GLI they failed to cover about a dozen WMU players plunging into the slot and were lucky to even be in the game when Josh Pitt went right through four Michigan players to score with 19 seconds left.
- The next night Michigan made a pathetic Michigan State outfit look like the Spartans of old, allowing 40 shots in a 3-0 loss and barely mustering a scoring chance until the third period.
- Michigan did not score until there were five minutes remaining in Friday's game at Wisconsin, and when they pulled to within 3-2 it took 40 seconds for them to give up an empty-netter.
- Michigan got one goal on Saturday, that on the power play from Copp, in a 3-1 loss that featured a huge scrum with 30 seconds left. At least they're mad, I guess?
the only entertaining thing about the last four games
Since the Ferris game, Michigan's gotten two even-strength goals, one from Copp, one from Travis Lynch. Compher added a shorthander and Moffatt is credited with two power play goals on College Hockey Stats, thought one of them should be Copp's. That's it. If, say, you turned off the Friday Wisconsin game with six minutes left like I did the only even strength goal you've seen in a month and a half was Travis Lynch firing a shot from the top of the circles that hit the square inch necessary for it to go in the net.
Problems. Michigan has them. We knew that they weren't the 10-2-2 outfit their record said they were, but this correction is brutal.
The problems are twofold. One was obvious to everyone from the moment Trouba and Merrill both announced departures: the defense is miserable. I've seen Kevin Clare try to make a neutral zone pinch this year; I've seen Downing blown through in overtime like he was playing in a never-ever league; I've seen converted forward Andrew Sinelli step into a regular shift and thought "well, at least he's not several other options". While it's disappointing that the only veteran who's developed one iota over his time at Michigan is Mac Bennett, anyone staring at this year's line chart on D knew it was going to be a problem. It is.
The secondary scoring was not supposed to be, but we're 18 games into this season and Moffatt, Guptill, Di Giuseppe, and Nieves have 9 even strength goals between them. I guess you could throw Compher in there, but Compher carries so much weight and is a freshman so I'm inclined to give him a pass. Those four guys are supposed to be the team's skill players and at even strength they're scoring at the same rate as Travis Lynch.
Why? I don't really know. Michigan finds itself reduced to throwing shots at the net through defensemen most of the time because they don't have the skill to get around people, so the bulk of their shots are attempts from outside the circles that have little chance of going in or even causing a rebound. Copp actually drives the net and drives play with his effort level; the other guys are just kind of out there, with the exception of Guptill's ability to flip pucks up high from tight angles. That's acceptable if you're a random fourth-liner, but three of the four scoring types mentioned are high NHL draft picks who've been around the block. When Copp's out and Compher's playing on a broken foot they have to step up; at this point it's obvious they can't.
Michigan has yet another bye week (hooray one-weekend conference tournament) and what should be an easy series against a Michigan State team that can't beat anyone but American International, Princeton, and Michigan to find its footing; if they can't come out firing against MSU, oxygen masks will deploy from the ceiling as the downward acceleration becomes stomach-clenching.
Bill Rapai [set]
I went to the second (consolation) game of the Great Lakes Invitational at Comerica Park. Michigan lost 3-0. Brian said I must write this up, which is just as well since I'm too depressed to write about the football team right now. So.
As a Detroiter (err…Metro-) I appreciate Mike Ilitch. He may be a king of the Sicilian Square people while I'm a firm Foldedsliceitarian, but he's the daddy who won't say no to a Brett Hull or a Prince Fielder even if he just got you a Robitaille/Cabrera. He also funds a third of Detroit charities, renovated FoxTown, and realized the United States needed a Canadian-like hockey development program 30 years before USA Hockey itself got serious about it.
For this, that, and the other thing, nobody in this town can begrudge him anything. Not for weirdly refusing to put Larry Aurie's number (6) in the rafters, or for putting Tiger Stadium in the ground, or for not paying his taxes, because Ilitch is the guy who bought the Dead Things, then stole the GM who built that Islanders dynasty, then drafted Yzerman, then began a postseason streak which has outlasted both of Michigan's.
So when they told him they wanted to have his Red Wings host the Winter Classic (and once the stakeholders could decide on which pizza to order)* nobody could begrudge Mike his demand that Detroit, as opposed to Ann Arbor, should play host city, and that his downtown, bank-monikered ballpark should get a carnival and an ice rink too.
When you got down there and saw the Hockey Hall of Fame tent in the middle of the stadium lot, you could be for this in a rah-rah-good-for-Detroit kind of way. But, like handing that long-term deal to Franzen instead of Hossa, Comerica Park as hockey rink was a contemporarily questionable decision which in hindsight appears to be an awful one.
* [My vote would have been Supino's**]
**[Yes, we are all about superfluous possessives in Detroit. What of it?]
The thing about outdoor hockey is it's supposed to call to mind "pure" hockey, i.e. the game you played with friends under a gunmetal sky after spending twice that long shoveling, until the half-frozen parent you left on the shore decided everybody's going to fall in/catch a cold. I realize not everyone knows what this experience is, and there are myriad social/cultural/class reasons why this is, including SE Michigan geography:
[Jump: CoPa makes for a bad hockey rink, Michigan makes like a bad hockey team, and a hockey stick serves as a passable bat]
Send Joe Dumars to space, part XVII. Trey Burke's line from last night's Magic-Jazz game: 30 points, 8 assists, 7 rebounds.
actual highlights start at about a minute in
Burke's shooting percentage is pretty low right now since he's taking a lot of those tough runners you remember from a variety of NO NO NO NO YES moments last year and getting fewer easy looks around the basket what with NBA players being very tall and athletic, but in his last ten games He's averaging 6.4 assists against 1.3 turnovers in that window. His TO rate of 6.8 is insanely low. It's looking like a three-way race for Rookie of the Year between Burke and old foes Victor Oladipo and Michael Carter-Williams.
Meanwhile, Detroit drafted a shooting guard currently hitting 37% from the floor and traded for Brandon Jennings, who is a fourth year player about as good as Burke is as a rookie. I shake my fist!
Is this getting old? Am I going to be describing various things that should be done to Joe Dumars for passing on Trey Burke when Burke is 55? Yes. I apologize for what will be history's longest conniption fit.
Prepare your butts. Devin Gardner's status for the bowl game is still up in the air but looking grimmer and grimmer as each day passes without his return to the practice field. We mentioned it on the front page a couple days ago after Hoke's presser, and everyone followed up with assessments about how grim it's sounding. And in retrospect… when has a sprain of a ligament in your big toe ever required crutches?
Meanwhile, Sam Webb was asking people if you play Gardner at 75% in this upcoming bowl game, and the answer to that seems to be a clear no since there's not much at stake. And was Gardner 75% by midseason? At best. Now that he's limping around on crutches, it's at least 50/50 Shane Morris fans will get to see him against K-State.
It is possible that Jason Whitlock doesn't know what he's talking about. Taylor Lewan took a lot of heat this year for Michigan's offensive line… for some reason. I watched him closely and he still looked like the incredibly good player that he was as a junior, but when things are bad they must be a Failure of Leadership if you are the kind of person who has no basis for saying anything but is paid to say things.
The NFL will weigh in in April; current returns are that Jason Whitlock is talking out of his butt. I know you are shocked. Todd McShay projects Taylor Lewan as the ninth pick of the NFL draft:
Lewan isn't an exceptional athlete but he has enough quickness to get by when coupled with his physicality and mean streak. I've written a few times this season that even though Lewan doesn't always look like a prototype left tackle, he is very effective in run blocking and pass protection. Safety might be seen as a bigger need for Buffalo, but typically if you have a chance to take an offensive tackle over a safety in the first round, you do it.
"Not a prototype left tackle" is a weird criticism to level at a prototype left tackle. Putting it in the pile with that guy who thought Mike Martin was supposed to be some journeyman plugger after he 'struggled' as a senior.
This man must be educated on his own dime. That one Cal assistant who got a ton of recruits to commit to Cal and then jumped to Washington, bringing those recruits with him, is under investigation. For terrible things.
Mike Davis, a throwing coach who helped Basham win a state shot put title in track and field, told the Times that [Tosh] Lupoi gave him $3,000 for private tutoring for Basham and $1,500 to reimburse Basham's father for online classes.
The kid ended up not qualifying anyway. I guess you can't be giving money to people no matter what it's for, but I bet the NCAA prefers it when they come down on people for hiring strippers instead of tutors. Lupoi should start making donations to charities in recruits' names, just to see what happens.
Steve Sarkisian could eat a suspension for this after the NCAA made head coaches responsible for their assistants' misdeeds, something that would undoubtedly increment Lane Kiffin's smug look the one tenth of one percent it can be upgraded from its resting state.
OH GOOD THANKS 2013. JT Compher won't play at the WJC because he broke his foot, which will probably put him out for a month. This is at least the right time to do it, as Michigan doesn't return to the ice in a game Compher was going to be available for until January 10th, and then Michigan has a bye week before a Joe-and-road series against MSU that he may be available for.
This does make an important series at Wisconsin tougher, but at least Michigan has a lot of center depth.
SERIOUSLY 2013, I MEAN, SERIOUSLY? Beilien on WTKA:
During a Thursday morning interview on “The Michigan Insider” show on WTKA-AM (1050), Michigan coach John Beilein said he sophomore forward is being held back by a "variety" of nagging injuries.
"Right now, Mitch cannot go 100 percent," Beilein said. "He can't do what he can do."
You go straight to hell, 2013.
I SAID STRAIGHT TO HELL. PA DB Monate Nicholson, who was going to commit to M before the coaching staff basically told him not to visit, is now an MSU commit.
Still looking. Michigan signed their four hockey recruits for the upcoming year, though there are a couple of things yet to be determined.
One is the status of Hayden Lavigne, who's had a rough start in the USHL (.887 in five games) and is still a really young guy, especially for a goalie. It seems to make more sense for everyone to delay his entry until 2015, and even then he'll have to compete with a senior Racine and junior Nagelvoort. As we've seen in the recent past, goalies staring down a tough road to playing time are often defection candidates. Lavigne will be of interest. We'll see how committed he is to the college route; he was at least committed enough to sign his LOI.
The other thing is who replaces Jared Walsh, who committed and then defected to the OHL. Michigan graduates two defensemen (Bennett and Clare) and brings back something between six and eight depending on your opinion of the viability of the guys on the back end. (They are Serville, Lohan, Downing, De Jong, Chiasson, Sinelli, Szuma, and Hyman.) They've got a guy named Cutler Martin who is the hard nosed stay at home type his name foretold from birth, and they'd probably like to add another in that mold with Serville, Downing, and De Jong all puck moving types. May their search here be as successful as their search for a goalie last year was.
Okay.gif. Borges on Michigan's success against Ohio State:
"We executed," Borges said firmly. "It's that simple. We executed.
I really hope that's just balderdash for the reporters. The BTN commercials don't say FOOTBALL IS SIMPLE, man.
Etc.: McKeen's ranks incoming hockey center Dylan Larkin 20th in their latest NHL draft projection. That means he'll probably end up in the second round, like fringe first rounders before him JT Compher and Jon Merrill. Ricky Doyle highlights. He's killing it to the tune of 30 a game. UNC basketballer John Henson's shirt has an opinion. Hyping up the redshirting DTs.
Alex Kile's pointless game winner [Bill Rapai]
And it was the most pointless of all events. Michigan got a 2-2 tie out of a tightly contested game against a quite good Ferris State outfit on Wednesday, and fans were treated to a shootout at the end. The shootout decided nothing and meant nothing and took about 85 shooters to complete, but it was superficially fun all the same. Wow experience.
Anyway, Michigan staged an epic comeback in the shot department after a first period that Ferris dominated there and on the ice. M went from 14-4 down to 22-22 after two and went toe-to-toe; in the third they were held without a shot for a long time mostly because they kept tipping the puck two inches wide of the post, agonizingly. Ferris's tying goal came on a screened shot where it looked like Nagelvoort was unaware of who even had the puck and was badly positioned; other than that he was pretty damn good.
Michigan needs Kevin Lohan back, and soon, so they can sit Clare. Clare saw a potential two-on-one developing at center ice and decided to charge it, for the rare center-ice pinch. Upside: Clare gets the puck just outside of the blue line with three M skaters in the offensive zone. Downside: two on one featuring Sinelli as the last guy. Completely insane decision, one of many.
Other than that, a damn good game between two good teams without a lot of offensive wizards on their roster.
GO AWAY. EVERYBODY GO AWAY. Pat Narduzzi turns down the UConn job, which makes perfect sense. Bob Diaco then takes it, which doesn't but does mean Notre Dame has lost both its coordinators this offseason. Offense hardly matters since that's Brian Kelly's show; Diaco's departure might put some wobble in a unit that's been pretty good ever since he figured out how to defend Navy.
ND players certainly freaked out about it. Stephon Tuitt in a since-deleted tweet:
It is called that, Mr. Tuitt, and my suggestion to you is to do the same.
As for Narduzzi, he seems to be holding out for a job that is not an AAC death trap. This is probably the right idea. Unfortunately for Michigan fans hoping for some shakeup in the MSU program, with all the heads on the table save Mack Brown it doesn't look like there's going to be an opening of appropriate attractiveness this offseason unless someone gets poached by the NFL late. I'll pencil him in as Illinois's coach starting next year.
Coaching trees. Diaco is the third Brian Kelly assistant to get a head job (Charlie Molnar is at UMass and Chuck Martin was just hired at Miami). Current head coaches from Carr/Hoke era assistants after Ron English (understandably) lost his mind at EMU:
- Brady Hoke, Michigan
- This is not a tree.
- You need branches for that.
- It's a coaching line.
With Mattison and Borges not candidates for head jobs due to a variety of factors, that's not going to change. Hell, the only Michigan guy under 50 to have reached a coordinator spot is Scot Loeffler, who may not be long for that role after one-year stints at Temple and Florida were followed by a miserable opening year at Virginia Tech.
That's alarming. Compare Carr's coaching tree to Bo's… actually don't even bother doing that, compare it to Gary Moeller. It's not good that the only major school still willing to hire Michigan coaches is Michigan.
YES GO AWAY. Braxton Miller's looking at the NFL:
“It’s tough,” Miller told the Tribune. “I just don't know. I’ve really got to sit down and go through the pros and cons. I’ll talk to my parents, take it slow.
"Hopefully ball out on January 3rd and see what the scouts are looking at.”
The NFL is looking at Braxton Miller and seeing a guy who's nowhere near an NFL quarterback right now, so this probably won't come to anything. But it should. Go away!
I like big Butt. Sorry. Inevitable that was going to happen at some point. It couldn't be helped, really. Here's why it happened:
Butt entered his first year at Michigan as a scrawny, 6-foot-6, 209-pound prospect with potential.
He'll leave it some 37 pounds heavier, at 6-foot-6, 246-pounder with 11 percent body fat and an appetite for much, much more.
"(The coaching staff) wants me at 255, but I think I can get to 260, I'm a skinny 246 right now," Butt said. "I can put on more."
That is a crazy amount of weight in one year. Contrast that to Devin Funchess, who was listed at 235 as both a freshman and sophomore. While that lack of weight gain was mostly due to the roster lying its ass off about Funchess as a freshman, hey look one of those guys is a tight end and the other one is a wide receiver who occasionally puts his hand down.
If Butt can get to 260 by next fall, Michigan could have an actual dual threat tight end. This would make everyone happy: Borges would have a guy who's an actual matchup issue and I wouldn't have to watch Borges put tight ends on the field over guys like Dileo when that makes no sense at all.
Come on baby.
You wouldn't even recognize my blocking (back in the spring compared to know), I didn't know which foot to step with or where to put my hands, it's night and day," Butt says. "I look at the film and wonder 'who is that kid?' The coaches here put a complete transformation on me."
They're going to play tight ends; hopefully they'll have one worth playing.
This used to happen all the time! Michigan's safety play was not great this year but got a lot worse once Michigan started futzing with their starters, inexplicably at first and then apparently injury-forced, and I still don't get why Michigan was so down on Thomas Gordon. Was he great? No. Did he do this?
For instance, below Michigan State packages mesh with a smash variation combining a corner and swing route. The goal is to put a man beater to the boundary and a hi-lo stretch to the field against a cover 2 corner.
At the snap, Cook reads cover 2, so he knows he is going to the wide side of the field, where he has the 2 on 1 against the squat corner. Cook knows that the corner must cover the swing to the wide side flat, and he can throw the flag pattern before the cover 2 safety can react.
So Michigan State has a good call against the Buckeye coverage. But a completion is one thing. Throwing gasoline on the fire, Corey Pitt Brown takes a horrible angle, coming under the throw and violating a cover 2 safety's primary rule, which is not get beat deep. Seventy-two yards later Michigan State was up 10-0.
No. He was a boring person who did boring things like be a step late on well-thrown corner routes. This is pretty good in the grand scheme of things.
Given what we saw out of Avery and Furman when they were inserted it's clear no one was pushing through; messing with the safeties was a counterproductive move likely borne out of panic about the offense making the defensive coaches try anything that might improve the defense. By the OSU game their hand was forced by Wilson's injury, which is one of about ten things that may have cost Michigan that game.
Compare and contrast. Michigan State got inundated with Rose Bowl ticket requests to the point that they had a choice: cut out some low end folks or reduce available tickets for big ballers from 6 to 4 and medium ballers from 4 to 2. They went with the latter.
"At some point, you have to be true to the character of your institution, your history and fanbase. We're not elitist. We realize we have tremendous fan support and we know the sacrifices people make to be donors.
"The decision was made to be in line with the inclusive character of our university," Schager added. "The bottom line is Michigan State University wants to accommodate as many people as possible (for) this experience that everybody wants to be a part of."
As soon as Michigan got a good basketball team, they reseated Crisler such that people who had put in the time to watch ten years of dreck got booted upstairs if they weren't huge donors.
And there's not going to be a pep band on Saturday… for some reason. The pep band people are irritated, so it's not them, but it seems insane for even Dave Brandon to try to milk some 100 extra seats out of one regular season basketball game. That appears to be the case, though.
One of these athletic directors is making decisions based on building loyalty with his whole fanbase; the other is still running a company that markets cardboard as pizza.
Amir Williams! Oh man I feel your pain, Amir Williams.
Hey kids. The Michigan Theater's hosting a premiere of a documentary that may be up your alley tomorrow at 7. It's a documentary about a not-very-good Indiana high school basketball team:
It's getting excellent reviews, and was put together by Ann Arbor/Michigan folk, including Davy Rothbart of FOUND. And you can get in free(!) just by mentioning MGoBlog at the box office. It does not get better than that. Except maybe going 9-3. That would be awesome.
Anyway: Thursday, 7, Michigan Theater, an Indiana basketball team. There are also showings in Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids; mention the blog and you'll get in free there as well.
"DEAL WITH IT" –Dead Hawk to itself.
IMPORTANT. Here is a story from Don Cherry that he posted on twitter.
1) A big beautiful hawk was killed on North Sheridan Way Service Road last night. How can anybody kill a beautiful bird like that?
2) The bird had to be seen. I can understand, although sad, when I see a squirrel killed on the road, the way they dart in and out .
3) But this hawk did not know how to time it when to get out of the way of as a car comes. Sad. I love hawks. They always look so cool as
4) they sit on a tree like they should be wearing sun glasses.
Sometimes multi-part tweets seem like nouveau free verse with their accidental breaking points and garbled syntax, and this one culminates with the image of a Hawk Cop keeping his eye out for you. Serve and protect (mice not included). Sometimes twitter is great. Other times it's MACK BROWN IS DEAD (I'm not dead yet!).
Also not dead yet. There were reports from campus that Devin Gardner was wearing a sling to classes during the year, and at the bust yesterday he shows up on crutches and in a walking boot.
I FEEL HAPPY
Is there any part of Devin Gardner that is not broken? Is it even possible to judge Gardner's junior year, given that for most of it he was a broken assemblage of bones grinding against bones entirely other than the ones they were supposed to grind against*? For the love of God can someone protect this man?
Hoke says Gardner's issue is turf toe. This will prevent him from practicing this week but won't affect his availability for the bowl, because Devin Gardner is quarterback Rasputin.
*["Hey, tibia, fancy seeing you here. Aren't you supposed to be hanging out with, oh, what's his name? Femur? The big fellow."
AHHHHHHHHHH IT BURNS
"Yes, well I imagine it must. You seem to be getting smaller and there are many more of you."
I AM DISINTEGRATINGGGGGGGGGGGggggggggg
"Strange folk, those leg bones. Don't you think so, ulna?"
Here is a weird thing on Wednesday. Michigan finishes their first-half schedule with a game against Ferris State tonight, for some reason. Ferris is off to a hot start itself, currently 4th in the RPI (Michigan has dropped to fifth since we last checked, just because other team have won games and leapt up) and 13-2-2 overall. The Bulldogs haven't really played anyone outside their conference, splitting against Colgate and St. Lawrence and beating Mercyhurst, but they are scoring tons of goals and are 10-0-2 in the new WCHA.
Center Ice has a preview for you; sounds like there's going to be a lot of pressure on the Michigan defense to escape a heavy forecheck. That is suboptimal. Should be a good one… on a Wednesday. For some reason.
Here's another weird thing. Brennan Serville will return to the lineup tonight. He's displacing Mike Chiasson, leaving converted forward Andrew Sinelli on the ice. Sinelli's played pretty well since moving back to defense. He's small but his puck skills are above average for the position and he's a good skater with relatively good pop for a guy his size. I've noticed him more than Chiasson, certainly, and while Serville is still a mistake factory he's much better with the puck on his stick than Chiasson, and Michigan's going to need to move the puck against Ferris's aggressive forecheck.
Here's yet another weird thing. Michigan is legendarily averse to post touches, something I've been fine with for the most part. Michigan's personnel hasn't lent itself to dumping it on the block and letting someone try to score, and that's not Beilein's wheelhouse, so okay. But with Mitch McGary rounding into shape, Beilein asserts that we might see more than 1% of Michigan's possessions feature a large man on the block:
For those calling for post-entry plays, Michigan coach John Beilein tossed out a modicum of hope on Wednesday morning.
“I think everyone should stay tuned to that because that’s been a process,” Beilein said in an interview with “The Michigan Insider” show on WTKA-AM (1050). “But sometimes we stay away from it, sometimes it frustrates us, sometimes it’s been good to us.”
One of the primary guys calling for post entries has in fact been Sam Webb, who asked the question that led to that answer. Personally, my prescription for success is running a ton of pick and roll with McGary, Stauskas and LeVert. Michigan's gone away from the P&R a lot this year without Burke and the results have been… iffy.
Here's a usual thing that is still a little bit weird. Remember last year when I kept saying that Michigan was just unbelievably young? And that this would get much better the next year even with the departures of Burke and Hardaway? About that.
And that's likely to drop as the season goes on and McGary sucks up more of Horford and Morgan's minutes. This is significant improvement on last year, in fact—their experience number was 0.73—but when you're so far down the list you have to improve more than that to make any real headway.
Not particularly surprising aside: the nation's least experienced team is Kentucky. Kansas is third. Kansas has lost three of their last four and Kentucky is 8-2 with losses to MSU and Baylor and a best win over Providence. It is hard to be young, sometimes, even when you have guys on your roster NBA teams are slavering over.
QWASH speech issues. Quinton Washington's speech was the highlight of the bust, as he opened up about the speech issues that had been the thing politely not mentioned about him ever since his recruitment:
"Coming here, it was hard for me to even pick up a phone," said Washington, who has struggled with speech problems his entire life. "I couldn't order at a restaurant."
Five years ago, Quinton Washington couldn't order food.
This is a problem when you are 300 pounds. Read the whole thing; Washington is a fine example of the reasons you root for the kids inside the uniforms instead of just the uniforms.
Etc.: Michigan is +3.5 against K-State, which sounds about right. I mean okay yeah Michigan blew a late lead to the NTDP, but I mean… Luke Dwyer was in. I'm not bothered. 23 minutes of Jeremy Gallon highlights. RIP Don Lund. Doesn't sound like any juniors are exploring the NFL draft.
An annual tradition: the post where I spit out a bunch of hockey thoughts right after football season ends.
Andrew Copp emoji state.
AT RIGHT: Friday night immediately after OT goal
They are going to the tournament. Michigan's fantabulous 10-2-1 record has come against a tough slate of opponents; unadjusted win percentage has M's opponent's third; the more sophisticated KRACH system has them 12th. As a result they are second in both RPI and KRACH, behind only Minnesota. They're also tied for second in the revamped Pairwise*. Unless they implode, Michigan is on pace for a bid. Hell, they're on pace for a one seed.
They are living on the edge. Michigan isn't as good as their record. Don't take it from me, take it from Red, who said something along those lines a few weeks ago. They have played only three games not decided by one goal: 3-1 over BC, 6-0 over Niagara, and 7-4 over RIT. Hooray winning one goal games and all, but:
- Michigan is 3-0-1 in five minute OT sessions.
- Their goalies have a collective .937, and that's not because every shot is from the blue line.
- Shots for and against are dead even at 428.
- Pythagorean expectation (upshot: goal differential is a better predictive metric than record) works just as well in the NHL as it does MLB, and Michigan is 7th in scoring margin, way behind the Gophers.
Who's happy with #7 in goal differential? Everybody. But they're not playing like the elite team their record and the rankings suggest. There's no denying they've had a hefty helping of fortune so far and replaying this season results in a record this good maybe 5% of the time.
The blue line is a large problem. Bennett's great; everyone else is worrisome at best. The OSU comeback Monday was a collection of gross errors from the defense corps, from Chiasson wandering out to a player behind the net without putting his stick down, thus allowing a centering pass right through him, to Downing sliding his way behind the net on a 4 on 3. On Friday, Clare threw a blind backhand pass behind his own net with three minutes left in a one goal game instead of chipping the puck out of the zone; five seconds later it was no longer a one-goal game.
With Serville hurt, Michigan turned to junior forward Andrew Sinelli as the #6 D, and my buddy and I went from panicking about this to wondering if Michigan would sit Clare in favor of him when Serville was back. Since he hardly saw a shift late Monday you'd think the answer to that is undoubtedly "no," but Spath says he's threatening Serville:
"I like his quickness," Berenson said. "He's a good skater. He goes back to get the puck and he'll win that race. He'll take a hit to make a play. And he's a defensive forward so he has good defensive instincts in our zone."
Szuma missed some time with a concussion but after a long and thorough rest, he's back at practice. It appears, though, that for now, Sinelli has won the job and he will be given every chance to compete with Serville to be the Maize and Blue's sixth defenseman.
Chiasson has apparently slid past Serville to solidify his job, which makes sense to me. Clare holding his spot without threat… not so much.
Sinelli is much defter with the puck than most of Michigan's available defensemen and surprisingly physical for a small guy. He effectively pinned a bunch of guys to the boards and didn't make any glaring errors. He could help. This is both an endorsement of Sinelli and a cocked eyebrow at the rest of the crew.
But hey Bennett. Getting any scoring from the D has been the main issue with Michigan's offense so far. They're 16th in scoring with virtually no contribution from the D. Bennett pulled both of those OSU games out of the fire, first with the great stretch pass embedded above, then with a plunge into the goal mouth to take a cross-ice pass from Chiasson(!) to complete the World's Most Dangerous Goal.
If that had rebounded such that OSU got a quick breakout that was a 3-on-1 developing with Di Giuseppe back. Yikes. But it went in, so hooray.
Guptill's penalty shot against BU is one of five goals on the year for him [Bill Rapai]
The forwards are deep with little top end. I love me some Copp and Compher, who just scored two of the dirtiest crease goals Michigan's put in since… well, it's been a while since Michigan's had a true goalmouth fiend. Those guys bring value beyond their scoring lines and both are at a PPG.
But while it seems like Di Giuseppe, Nieves, Moffatt, and Guptill is a hell of a supporting cast, not a lot is happening 5 on 5 here. Those scoring line veterans have six goals 5v5 in 13 games. That's a little disappointing. The power play, clicking at 25%, is keeping everybody afloat right now; they're going to have to get some more even strength production if they're going to keep winning games if and when the save percentage and PP come back to earth.
Speaking of clicking. The turnaround in the power play is kind of incredible. Last year their single idea was get the puck to Trouba, and this was an okay enough idea to get Michigan to 19%. The year before they were completely miserable at 15%; they were at 17% the year before. All of these numbers seemed deserved.
This year's number also seems deserved. Michigan gets much better puck movement and regularly finds guys for cross-ice bombs that have been the most effective way to put the puck in the net since NHL 94. I don't get why it's happening this year instead of previous years, but I'll take it.
Inexplicable player enthusiasm of the year. Always one guy on the team who does nothing statistically but I find a way to advocate anyway, and this year it's Zach Hyman. Hyman's 1-2-3 line is obviously bleah. I still manage to think that he's much better at coming out of the corners with a purpose than anyone else on the team and should be flanked by two skilled players to take advantage of his ability to create offense off the cycle.
He seems like a different player, even if the stats aren't showing it. Remember this if he blows up in the next 20 games. Forget it if he doesn't.
No Racine is no problem. [Bill Rapai]
Goaltending is weird. Steve Racine started Monday's game out with some shaky rebound control before righting the ship and turning in one of the best four goals allowed performances you'll see; he has a .925 this year, building on the .920 he put up in the final ten games of his freshman season. And this is nothing compared to Nagelvoort, who's putting up Hunwick numbers: .945, 1.65 GAA.
Quite a difference there… and sad to say probably not a sustainable one. Teams that manage to have those kinds of save percentages over the course of the year are generally Cornell or Ron Mason-era MSU teams that place a heavy emphasis on defense and conservatism; Michigan just scored on a cross-ice goalmouth pass from D to D. Meanwhile, the shaky defense corps is giving up a ton of Grade A opportunities, and eventually those are going to start going in unless Michigan gets it together.
Even if it's not sustainable, that's 23 consecutive games of goaltending ranging from high quality to outstanding. At some point the sample size is about as good as its going to get, and we can put the terrible memories of last year behind. That point is coming up very soon.
Is Josh Blackburn still working with Michigan's goalies as a volunteer? Can someone buy him a smoothie or something?
The rest of the league is Minnesota and poop. I fielded a couple of questions about why I was high on Minnesota instead of Wisconsin and didn't really have an answer other than "Wisconsin always does this," and Wisconsin is doing it again: they're 4-5-1 on the year and just got swept by the Gophers in their first Big Ten series; they got blown out by both Boston schools. And they're probably the third best team in the league. The rest:
- OSU is 8-6 with seven of their wins against Robert Morris, Niagara, Canisius, and BGSU (a split with UMD is the final win). They played well against Michigan but still got swept; they were swept by Miami in their first series of the year, and Miami's not that good right now.
- MSU is 5-7 with 4 wins over American International (3-8) and Princeton (3-10); they were recently swept by Michigan Tech.
- Penn State is 3-7-1 with wins over Army, Robert Morris, and Sacred Heart; they were swept by Air Force and Union.
- Minnesota leads the nation in goal differential and is rather good at hockey. They've beaten UNH and taken a three point weekend from BC, plus split against ND.
Minnesota's the heavy favorite to win the league, and Michigan should finish second. No one else is likely to make the tournament.
*[I don't have a handle on what the changes did yet. In previous years I've downplayed the Pairwise until late in the season due to its volatility, preferring RPI as a better projection of where you would finish in the PWR at the end of the year than the actual PWR. If that seems like a dumb ranking system to you, well, at least they overhauled it?]