Saturday, March 12, 2016
#9 Michigan 6, #14 Penn State 1
CONNOR GOAL, MICHIGAN
UM 1 PSU 0 EV 06:27 Assists: Martin
Martin banks the puck off the boards and up for Connor, and you can see from how many defenders are low in the PSU offensive zone that there’s going to be an odd-man rush.
As expected, an odd-man rush does develop, and it just happens to feature two of the highest scorers in the nation. Connor carries in and has Compher a step behind. Brooks is shaded toward Compher, and he has his stick in a position where he could feasibly take away the pass even if he doesn’t drop it.
Connor then takes a couple of quick strides and Brooks realizes his only course of action is to lunge and stab at the puck. Technically speaking he did what he was supposed to in not allowing a pass to Compher; still, there are few things more terrifying than Connor streaking down the wing unopposed, so Brooks’ attempt to help doesn’t have a downside. McAdam gets beat over the near-side shoulder. For what seems like the hundredth time this season, look at that release. The puck comes off his stick so quickly that goaltenders at this level have and will continue to have an incredibly tough time stopping it; add his seemingly perfect accuracy and you can see why he has 30 goals.
[After THE JUMP: the beauty of being on the right side of #chaoshockey]
3/11/2016 – Michigan 7, Penn State 1 – 21-7-5, 11-5-3 Big Ten
3/12/2016 – Michigan 6, Penn State 1 – 22-7-5, 12-5-3 Big Ten
this will not go well for you [Bill Rapai]
This used to happen with some frequency: a not-bad team would walk into Yost Ice Arena and get hamblasted. By the second period of Saturday's game they'd have given up on everything except petty revenge, things would get increasingly sloppy, and at some point a combination of angry penalties would yield a 4-on-3 power play. We waited for the 4-on-3 every weekend, and got it most of the time.
Goalies were chased. Michigan replaced theirs voluntarily. The students chanted "goalie goalie sieve sieve sieve" at the various netminders they'd seen. People came perilously close to running out of fingers for the goal chant. Yost roiled; students right behind the opposition bench tried to get players to quit hockey on the spot.
I missed the Brendan Morrison-led heart of this era, when some local pizza marketer spent Michigan hockey games with his head in his hands moaning "why no why." Ten goals seems like a safely absurd number to offer free pizza after, and then this kid wanders out of British Columbia with the puck on a string and you go from business to charity overnight. I did catch the tail end. Even a slightly less rampant Michigan was electric. The Comrie-Cammalleri team was a ridiculous goal factory, and the subsequent Hensick/Porter or Hensick/Hilbert years didn't come up too far short of that ambitious mark.
Yost then was a revelation for someone raised on genteel Michigan Stadium, black as the ancient wood that held the stands up. People would scream things, terrible things. Yost got in people's heads. It was not uncommon for opposing players to squirt water in the vague direction of their most persistent hecklers. Lake State's coach tossed expletives back into the crowd like he was playing curse word tennis. Incidents where hockey parents lost their cool and tried to fight the entire section became so frequent they had to move the visiting team's ticket block across the ice.
The team was not responsible for the edge of danger that made Yost infamous, but they did inspire the utter lack of mercy with the product on the ice. I mean, I didn't get into Michigan hockey to the point where I started shaking uncontrollably during NCAA tournament games because things were reasonable and fair. I got into Michigan hockey because I wanted to see someone set on fire, and then taunted about how stupid and flammable they are.
Michigan set Penn State on fire this weekend. PSU limped in down multiple skaters due to injury, but they are a good team, a well coached team, and Guy Gadowsky has assembled a bunch of guys who can fly. Michigan struggled with their speed early, especially on two early power plays where PSU's aggression hardly let them get set up.
That's the way to play Michigan if you can hack it. They're not great at breaking out of their own zone and can get disrupted by a fierce forecheck. Penn State just about managed it for a period and then faded a hair in the second, surviving for the most part despite a flurry of chances. Michigan was up 2-1 and I was concerned because the lead probably should have been larger. Michigan tends to give up a lot of goals, you know.
Not on Friday. The third period featured one of those goal avalanches where Michigan turns a competitive game into a laugher over the course of three minutes. Kyle Connor snapped in another one-timer from his knees or his back or whatever. Like all Kyle Connor one-timers it was uncannily accurate and virtually unstoppable. That ended the competitive portion of the weekend; Saturday was about whether or not Michigan could crack a shot per minute. The 4-on-3 power play happened, of course, and there was even a brief period of 3-on-3. I can't remember the last time I saw that.
So you're looking at this team and Yost is alive, mean and angry, for the first time in a long time, and—oh right last weekend Michigan got swept by Ohio State thanks to an astounding 13 goals allowed, many of them resulting from Michigan turning the flamethrower on itself.
I hadn't been actually mad about a home game since I'd dialed it back after the Mac Bennett injury against BGSU. I'm into this team enough now to leave a game with Yosemite Sam smoke issuing from my ears if, say, they blow a 2-0 lead by allowing six straight goals of an increasingly clownshoes variety. Which they did.
So I don't know, man. I've been saying I don't know what to expect from this team on a nightly basis and in response they've decided to up their amplitude even further. We know they're in. We know what they look like when they're locked in. They look like the apocalypse on skates. We know what they look like when they're thinking about something other than the opponent in front of them. They look like a man playing spin-the-bazooka.
We don't know what Michigan looks like against a tourney team. The last time they played anyone likely to get an at-large was when they travelled to BU sometime in the 1860s. I fear that a disciplined ECAC team comprised largely of 24-year-olds may be a shock to the system, but equally anticipate than anyone going up against the kind of wheelin'-dealin'-saucer-passin' magnificence the CCM line comes up with will inevitably be left consoling a goaltender and possibly a pizza marketer.
It is almost time for the most terrifying thing in sports, and we are approaching it with a team that could do literally anything. If this is the last team Red Berenson ever coaches he dies like he lived: charging headlong into death or glory with flame in his eyes.
Dang, Nieves. The Boo Nieves we saw this weekend is the best-case version of Nieves. He was big, fast, agile, and deft with the puck. He drove a ton of play. That's the guy we were hoping to get when he was a second-round pick.
It's not that he's been necessarily bad; he's been a scoring-line player for the duration of his career and he has put up points. But he's never seemed to outclass his opposition. This weekend he did, maybe for the first time. Better late than never.
Where did this passing come from? Over the past couple months of the season Michigan has become an incredibly slick passing team when they are on the attack. Alex Kile had the sweetest pass of the series when he backhanded one from behind the net that fooled every Nittany Lion on the ice and resulted in a goal. It was one of many chances generated by Michigan's vision.
This hasn't happened in a long while: I got frustrated at Michigan for over-passing in certain situations. That used to be a common refrain when Michigan had an off night back in the rampant days. That it's back is, in the wider view, a great sign.
I would still prefer it if Werenski shoots when he's in the slot, though.
Downing: still sane. Haven't had much to complain about with him for a while now, even during the OSU series. I think the switch has flipped there. I haven't seen him generate an opposition odd man rush with excessive aggression much, if at all, since that MSU game he was horrendous in.
Boka: offensive upside. Michigan's been activating their D more over the past few weeks and Nick Boka has been a beneficiary. Not so much on the scoreboard but in terms of gaining and keeping the zone and handling the puck, Boka has given some indication he can help fill the shoes Werenski is likely to vacate next year.
Shuart is a luxury as a fourth liner [Bill Rapai]
Skill down the roster. Max Shuart's goal on Saturday saw him stickhandle through a couple guys and lift a backhand over the goalie; on Friday Tony Calderone scored a slick breakaway goal five-hole. Most years
Pairwise stuff. Michigan slides up just one spot to seventh. Right now they'd be bracketed with Harvard in the first round and (probably) Quinnipiac in the second, which would mean they get shipped east.
The committee does have leeway to move folks around in a seed band in an effort to bump attendance so Michigan might get swapped into Cincinnati anyway—although if I was the committee that wouldn't make much impact on me either way since attendance in Cinci is always a disaster no matter who is in that regional. If the committee really gave a crap about attendance a Cincinnati regional would not exist.
Michigan is locked into the field now, BTW. There is not a scenario amongst the three million or so possibilities remaining that drops them out. They are about 90% likely to be #7 or #8. No other Big Ten team has a chance at an at-large; Michigan Tech has a faint shot at an at-large if they lose in the WCHA title game. Michigan's playing for the banner and the banner only in St. Paul.
Big Ten Tourney stuff. Annual rant: this is the dumbest format for a sporting event that isn't the actual NCAA tourney. They will never get attendance anywhere when they have six teams so spread out for a niche sport like hockey. I do not understand why they don't just have best two of three series on home ice. More games, better for fans, more money. Anyone who doubts this must not have watched the various home-court basketball conference tourney finals, which are always played in tiny gyms that are losing their damn minds.
The holdup is that Wisconsin and Ohio State don't want to reserve their buildings for three weeks because high school state championships use them. Which is fine. If neither school wants to take hockey seriously that's their problem. (In Wisconsin's case their objection is even more absurd since there's another arena the same damn size in Madison that can take the high school events.) That shouldn't prevent the Big Ten from running a much better tournament in every way.
Oh: Michigan gets the winner of Penn State-Wisconsin after a bye. Given the results of the last two weekends that's better than facing the MSU-OSU winner. Minnesota would likely await in the final.
I don't want to get ahead of myself, but… I have heard that Compher will return for his degree, and I'm guessing Motte comes along with him. Werenski is almost certainly gone, but if they get those two guys back Michigan is waiting on Connor and just Connor. If he comes back… hoo boy. I mean, I don't think he's back. But man.
Friday, December 11, 2015
#9 Michigan 8, Minnesota 3
Mich 1 Minn 0 EV 00:16 Motte (10) from Compher (13) & Connor (11)
Michigan wins the opening faceoff, and the puck rolls into their defensive zone. Downing moves it to Connor along the left boards, and he cuts across the neutral zone. Connor sees Motte near the blue line and lobs it up for him, but the pass is off target. You can see in the screen cap that a Minnesota defender has his stick out to take away the passing lane; the puck hits it and rolls to Compher (circled).
Compher carries in and turns back before he has to skate through a wall. Motte reads Compher’s movement and creeps down, and he’s left alone because a Minnesota defender is clinging to the boards (he’s the one partially in the circle around Motte). That’s fine if your team has the puck, but Compher had possession the entire time. It seems like he’s assuming that the two guys at the red line are going to strip the puck and send it up the boards quickly, but when Motte starts skating down staying on the boards isn’t staying very aware of the situation.
The goalie was looking to the corner and does a nice job reading the pass, standing, and trying to square to the new shooter, but Motte’s shot beats his reaction time.
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest]
In Michigan sports that weren't that, Michigan kicked off its hockey season with a shaky sweep of Mercyhurst. The Lakers were .500 in Atlantic Hockey last year and lost five of their top six scorers to graduation. They looked like they were in for a rough year; Michigan dominated attack time and shots. They did not so much dominate on the scoreboard, with one-goal wins Friday and Saturday. (Michigan got an empty-netter Friday.)
Hockey takes in addition to Adam's Goal By Goal:
- Not seeing much difference in the team this year. A lot of individual talent, a lot of breakdowns. Michigan gave up a ton of odd-man rush goals and turned the puck over at or near the blueline far too much. Actual zone entry plays were rare; instead Michigan just tried to gain the zone with individual skill. They'll win their share of games, but I didn't see much that would indicate a turnaround from the last few frustrating years.
- Example of the above. On Sunday Alex Kile was on a 3-on-2 on which he had two guys open and trailing; he chose to try to beat a defenseman around the corner and blasted the goalie for an interference penalty.
- Werenski is up and down and frustrating. He stands out as a super talented even with a bunch of other NHL draft picks on the team. I expect his wrister to pick out a corner every time he gets an opportunity with it. But he was the D caught up ice on Mercyhurst's 2-on-1 goal Sunday and there were several other questionable defensive plays besides. He was iffy on D last year and should by rights be a freshman right now; I don't think that's a reason for long term concern but I was hoping he'd show a little better.
- Nieves is still Nieves. Perimeter player. Not expecting a breakout year. He's centering the "top line" mostly for morale reasons, I think—Compher's line is the actual top line.
- I don't have a feel for Connor yet. Sometimes takes me a while to figure out what I think of a player. Connor is currently in that boat.
- The third line is pretty dang good. It was Calderone, Marody, and Warren. All of them are high effort, physical guys. Calderone had some trouble receiving passes, but other than that those guys dominated their opposite number. Michigan is going to get production out of them against opponents' bottom six.
- Depth: questionable. Michigan skated seven defensemen on Sunday and elected to double-shift centers on the fourth line. I'm fine with this—one of my complaints over the last few years is that Michigan didn't seem to play its stars enough—but if there are injuries Michigan could be really thin at F.
This will be another season flirting with the tourney cutoff. Michigan's awful schedule hurts them significantly here. The Big Ten appears to be a tire fire again. These days RPI overcorrects for home games and Michigan loaded their schedule with them. And their nonconference schedule is mostly crap. I wouldn't be surprised if Michigan is the non-tourney team with the best record in April.
More Big Ten tire fire details. Alarmingly for the league and Michigan's schedule strength, Minnesota is 0-3 and has scored just one goal. Everyone expected the Gophers to take a step back after graduating huge chunks of their team; that much of a retreat is going to be yet another anchor for a league that is already carrying several around.
Meanwhile Wisconsin is coming off a BU/BC weekend in which they were outscored 10-1, OSU has been swept by Miami and BGSU, and Michigan State was just swept by Denver (total goals 7-2). Big Ten teams aren't just losing, they're getting crushed.
Penn State(!) is the only team with anything approximating an encouraging start after a competitive split with Notre Dame. Everything else points to a repeat of last year minus a good Minnesota team. Maybe the Big Ten could spend some of their filthy lucre on hiring non-incompetent hockey coaches next year? Could we try that maybe? MSU and Wisconsin allowing Tom Anastos and Mike Eaves to return is bad for everybody.
Yost things. They have walked back a lot of the in-game commercials this year, so that's nice. IIRC the only thing still around is Find The Object Under The Corporate Logo. That's down from just under a dozen per game last year.
The folks in charge are still a bit off, though. Hockey Special K has limited opportunities to do his thing because of the nature of hockey but he's still jamming in a goal horn—completely unnecessary w/ the bad—and then playing pump-up music before the puck drop. Why Special K insists on playing 5 seconds of music before every kickoff/puck drop is always going to be a mystery.
Also the concession prices remain completely out of whack. When it's more expensive than Joe Louis I'm going to avoid buying things out of principle. I can't imagine the tiny incremental profit increase is worth the psychic damage to hockey fans who are already pretty beat up. I almost dropped my tickets this year because I could probably TiqIq the entire schedule for half of what my seats cost. Like, I decided not to and then two weeks after the deadline I relented.
Yost is not priced at all sensibly, especially when it comes to students. They're down to two sections and an overflow in the endzone, which is super depressing. I know we want the hockey program to break even but surely the atmosphere in the building is more important than X thousand dollars.
Thursday, March 19, 2015
Michigan 5, Wisconsin 1
Michigan 1 Wisconsin 0 PPG 14:45 Hyman (20) from Larkin (30) and Werenski (16)
The puck rims around the boards off of an errant shot and is picked up by Boo Nieves. He passes to Zach Werenski at the point, who holds it just long enough to get the high defender moving before passing to Dylan Larkin on the wing.
Larkin somehow sneaks a shot underneath a charging defender. Zach Hyman is doing an excellent job screening in front, safely tucked underneath the defense and in front of Joel Rumpel. Larkin’s shot is deflects off of Hyman’s stick and under Rumpel’s pads.
The puck hits the bar in the back of the net and bounces out. Hyman slides to his right and backhands it in for good measure; after all, it’d be hard to disallow a goal on review if it goes in twice. Unless the ref meant to blow the whistle. I rescind my earlier comment.
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the tournament]
Apologies. This posted as a draft yesterday and I didn't notice until late.
2/14/2015 – Michigan 2, Minnesota 6 – 16-9-0, 8-3 Big Ten
2/15/2015 – Michigan 0, Minnesota 2 – 16-10-0, 8-4 Big Ten
There can be no contrast of hockey styles greater than going from playing Michigan State on ice that may as well be gravel to Minnesota's immaculate Olympic sheet. On the Olympic sheet you will play the biggest, fastest, and often finest players the "State of Hockey" has to offer. Also the occasional Austrian. (This year Minnesota State, the school you thought was fictional, has claim.)
Sometimes this goes okay. Sometimes it really does not.
Michigan got bombed out of the building on Friday as Minnesota repaid the favor Michigan did them when they met in Yost; they lost narrowly the next night as Minnesota repaid the favor from the first matchup. It wasn't fun, except it kind of still was even when Michigan was getting their ass handed to it.
I don't know man, it's weird. Multiple times a period teams would make little clever passes to break out of the zone and rush the puck in. Dump and chase, these days the default method of doing anything, was just about unheard of. The Olympic ice has weird effects on visitors, who tend to spread out on both ends. On offense this leaves you taking speculative shots from the outside that don't have a lot of chance to go in; on defense your slot is exposed*.
*(That's not what she said.)
So Minnesota opened the scoring by wiring a puck from the slot to the top corner on a power play and things continued from there. Hockey's weird and I don't think this means Michigan's a thousand times worse than the Gophers any more than the previous series meant the inverse. But sometimes you get Minnesota and you're just like… dude.
You have Hudson Fasching, a guy who I've heard about since he was 15, and he is a boring third-liner. The tic-tac-toe of the puck is mesmerizing, and if they get zeroed in on your breakout, as they did in the second period Friday, you are in deep without a paddle. Friday's game went from a relatively even 3-0 game to a 4-0 blowout over the first ten minutes of the second, if that makes any sense.
The kind of things Michigan does to a lot of star-struck opponents (or did until the last few years) Minnesota does from time to time. Sometimes when they're on, etc. Michigan competed, but they currently do not have the defense to deal with these things. Minnesota erased Zach Hyman with NHL uber-prospect Brady Skjei; Michigan has no equivalent defender. Zach Werenski is real good… and 17. Check back with me when Werenski is a senior to see if he's as good as Skjei, a junior, is now.
So it was over the weekend, as two teams playing with buckets of space made it 120 minutes of 4-on-4. 120 minutes of 4-on-4 is terrific to watch even if you aren't, like, scoring any goals. It restores a faith you didn't know you needed restoring in the wisdom of flinging pucks at a guy in a mask.
Margin for error is gone after losing three of four with weak competition ahead. Michigan is 17th after the sweep, currently on the wrong side of the bubble. They have eight regular season games left against the dregs of the league and Penn State; they have to win a lot of games if they're going to feel good about their at-large chances.
Michigan's schedule strength is languishing at 34th nationally despite nonconference matchups against Lowell, BU, BC, Michigan Tech, and New Hampshire. The league is really dragging them down, and they got unlucky to draw a really bad version of RPI (the university).
Anyway: I figured that Michigan had three or four games to give if they wanted to be secure going into the Big Ten tournament. They've just about given all of them. It is go time the next two weekends against Ohio State (who may not be as bad as they seemed the first time around, as they were dealing with a Michigan basketball level of injuries) and dire Wisconsin. Sweeps in both are imperative.
Olympic ice is terrific. I don't see any reason not to adopt it. More ice to cover means long periods like 4-on-4 hockey where the team with the puck can maintain possession and threaten for a 30 or 40 second period, as both Minnesota and Michigan did. I prefer anything that brings the skill of the rush back to prominence, especially a week after MSU's "line four guys up on the blueline and pray" strategy.
If I was the NHL commissioner I'd decree any new building has to have Olympic ice. I'm a fan of weird variations in playing situations, something that gives baseball some of its allure. The time to make that change was probably 20 years ago before the various stadiums went up, but I'd make that change anyway.
Goaltending: insufficient. Nagelvoort got chased on Friday as he let in one very soft goal (the second trickled through him and he was unaware of that fact, leaving a ton of time for a forward to swat at the puck twice) and did not make many of an admittedly very difficult sequence of saves on water-bottle jobs from the Gophers. Still, I don't have much confidence in either guy at this point… and that's coming from a person who was claiming the problem largely rested with the defense corps for the first half of the season.
Which it certainly does, in part. Michigan's slot has been… not well defended dammit that's still a PHRASING. Is there any way to talk about the section of the hockey rink between the circles that now that I'm thinking in this manner really really resemble breasts ARGH I blame twitter for everything.
Nieves is modern day Milan Gajic. Looks like he should be a scorer, isn't a scorer, reinforces this by putting his first two in since November in a situation in which no one will remember because they don't matter.
I thoroughly enjoyed the Minnesota crew. The color guy was a little willing to condone disproportionate reprisals for a bit of Michigan frustration on Friday and the PBP guy was inclined to exclaim "no penalty!" in situations where there wasn't even much complaining from the crowd. Other than that, they were excellent—much better than the anodyne BTN duo, still featuring Fred Pletsch for reasons that escape me.
The PBP guy, who turns out to be named Doug MacLeod, brought up Ufer apropos of nothing other than respect for the fraternity of announcer bros, and that felt appropriate. He has that certain gravitas a Bud Lynch or Carl Grapentine does.
One thing not so much though. The color guy kept knocking Compher for not pulling the trigger on a couple of 2-on-1 opportunities he got. This felt wrong because Compher's last second pass after a shot fake trickled through the crease and Shuart really should have gotten a stick on it. If he did that was a slam dunk into an open net. The other one didn't come off as his attempted saucer pass was flicked into the air by a defenseman's stick, but a super great opportunity for a tap-in in two tries is worth more than any two two-on-one shots are.