I'VE HAD JUST ABOUT ENOUGH OF YOU SONNY
|WHAT||Friday: Michigan vs Miami
Saturday: Michigan vs Ferris State/Northern Michigan
|WHERE||Joe Louis Arena, Detroit|
|WHEN||Friday: 8:05 PM.
Saturday: Championship @ 7:35 PM. Third place game @ 4:35.
|THE LINE||College hockey lines, junkie?|
|TELEVISION||Friday: BTN HD
Record. Yeeergh. 26-6-7 overall. 21-2-7 (with two shootout wins) in the CCHA. The ferocity with which Miami pwned the CCHA has to be approaching record territory. They had 70 points, 20 more than second-place Michigan State. Their conference goal differential was +61. Michigan and Northern tied for second in that category at +14. This may be the best CCHA team since Brendan Morrison and company.
However, Miami did look somewhat mortal last weekend. 6-2 over Ohio State on Friday was not a surprise, but they lost 5-4 in overtime the next night and squeezed out a 2-1 series clincher in game three. Look a little deeper, though:
- Friday shots: 42-28, Miami
- Saturday: 46-21, Miami
- Sunday: 24-23, Miami
It's a miracle it even got to Sunday.
It was weird at the time and it's weirder now: the most bizarre series of the season in college hockey is Miami getting swept by the CHA's Robert Morris in a home and home. Miami is Miami. Robert Morris went 6-9-3 in the CHA. Against teams not named Miami, Robert Morris was 8-19-6. WTF?
Previous meetings. The only two meetings of the year started Michigan's November tailspin. Game one was a penalty-laden, frustrating affair that may stand the test of time as the game most emblematic of Michigan's 2009-10 season. Michigan outshot the Redhawks 28-13 and lost 3-1. Along the way they failed to convert on a penalty shot, put a number of shots off the post, and missed wide open nets. They found a way to lose that game.
The next night was totally different. Miami had the advantage in shots and walked away with the game early in the third, causing Michigan to melt down and take 19 penalties. Berenson called them out for it in the aftermath, and they responded by getting swept by Michigan State.
Dangermen. Might be quicker to pick the kids who don't seem particularly threatening. Junior forward Justin Vaive only has eight points. Freshman Steve Mason has played all of five games. Backup goalie Connor Knapp has two assists.
Aaand we're running out of names. Miami has four(!) players currently at or above a PPG: senior Jared Palmer and juniors Tommy Wingels (right, via cnati.com), Andy Miele, and Carter Camper are all in a tight cluster of 39-44 points. All have at least fifteen goals. This means Michigan cannot throw Hagelin and company at the opponent's top line and turn them into spectators. (It also means that you can expect Miami to be this good again next year: they have two seniors who play regularly.)
There's a dropoff after those guys but it's a dropoff to junior Pat Cannone, who has a 12-16-28 line. So… right. Miami has almost two lines of double-digit goalscorers.
Defense and goalie and whatnot. Cody Reichard and Conor Knapp are still rotating even this deep into the season. Reichard has played more than Knapp so far this year and got the first two games in the OSU series, but was pulled in favor of Knapp after he gave up five goals on 21 shots in Ohio State's OT win. As of Wednesday, Miami had not named a starter.
This is not like Michigan's choice between Hogan and Hunwick. Reichard and Knapp are #3 and #9 nationally in save percentage with a .930 and .920, respectively. Either one is a far better option than Michigan's goalies.
As far as those go, it will be Hunwick this weekend:
"It's a pretty easy decision," Berenson said before practice Tuesday afternoon. "I have to play Hunwick. He got us there. (Bryan) Hogan's skated at practice. He'll take shots today. He'll be our backup if he's ready to go."
He is Red Berenson and can shoot lasers from his eyes at anyone with temerity to question his judgment, but man I disagree with that. Though Hunwick's save percentage is holding up pretty well so far, there have been a ton of soft goals and even more fat rebounds that opponents have not been able to capitalize on. Maybe Hogan's still feeling the effects of his groin injury and Berenson is phrasing it this way for motivational/confidence purposes.
Miami has been as good on defense as they are on offense, shielding the goalies—when you've got two guys in the top ten in save percentage chances are your defensive corps has an awful lot to say about that. Here Miami is also poised to bring back virtually everyone. USCHO lists senior Brendan Smith as a defenseman, but he's actually been bumped to forward this year to make room for a collection of sophomores and freshmen. Vincent LoVerde is the only upperclassman; he and Cameron Schilling are the top pair.
Special teams. Your power plays per game:
|PP For / G||5.3||5.6|
|PP Ag / G||5.4||5.3|
Surprisingly for such a talented team, Miami kills more power plays than it draws. This seems to be wholly the responsibility of freshman forward Curtis McKenzie, who has a spectacular 43 minor penalties this year.
Does this matter much? Eh… not really. Miami's kill is fourth nationally at 87.3% and has seven shorthanded goals. Michigan dropped a little bit after that first period outburst by Michigan State but is still seventh at 86.3%. Also a surprise: for a team that scores as many goals as Miami does, their power play is kind of lame. They're 33rd at 18.4%. Michigan is slightly better at 19.2%.
Neither team was particularly successful in the earlier series, with Michigan going 1 for 14 and Miami going 2 for 15. Two of those goals were five on three, the third four on three. This is a series that's going to be decided at even strength.
Michigan Vs Those Guys
Do whatever the hell it is you have been doing lately. Michigan can play with Miami. We saw that in the first matchup of the season between the two teams, where an epic ton of bad luck and iffy goaltending sent Michigan down to defeat. And we've seen it in the CCHA playoffs to date. Michigan's opponent has been run out of the building four straight times.
Sure, post-human Miami wouldn't even comprehend Lake State as a hockey team, but humiliating Michigan State in the fashion Michigan did has to count for something.
Clone Carl Hagelin and put him on three lines. They might have done this, actually. Do it again. I have something in my head where after a game the Michigan hockey team gathers in a circle and removes their helmets and they're all Carl Hagelin and they all go "bork"… is it a dream or a nightmare?
Pray like hell. Even if Michigan plays at the level they have been of late, I can't see Miami going as quietly as Michigan's first two playoff opponents. Hunwick is going to face his share of grade A chances. I worry about that. It will take a superhuman defensive effort to win.
The Big Picture
No matter how you thwack the Pairwise predictors there is no way to get Michigan into the tournament without an autobid. It's all on the line.
If Michigan wins Friday I'll hop in with a conference championship preview.
|WHAT||Michigan @ Michigan State
CCHA Second Round
|WHERE||East Lansing, Michigan|
March 12th/13th, 2010
7:05 PM EST March 14th
|THE LINE||College hockey lines, junkie?|
|TELEVISION||Friday & Saturday: Comcast Local|
Record. I'm pretty sure that frequent commenter Spartan Dan put together a killer weekend preview at The Only Colors simply to shame me—it's even got this site's usual "you want this WCHA series to go this way because of the marginal effect it will have on our pairwise comparisons" section—and shame me it has done. It has also done a significant amount of the legwork, though, so we'll call it even.
Anyway: 19-11-6, 14-8-6 CCHA. Second place. Goal differential of +0.67 per game overall and +0.32 in conference. Bizarrely, Michigan's goal differential is considerably better in both instances (+0.85 and +0.5, respectively) despite being the seventh seed here. What's going on? Dan has a great chart that helps explain things:
Right away you can see more spread in Michigan's goal results. State scores three a lot, zero almost never, and six relatively rarely. Their goal curve somewhat approximates a normal distribution. Michigan has nights of wild success and nights like… well, you could name a dozen at this point. This dovetails nicely with a post I threw on mgolicious recently about a new method for reducing the error in baseball's Pythagoran prediction schemes*. It's kind of obvious:
Your actual win total doesn't just depend on runs scored and allowed -- it also depends on the consistency of each. If your scoring is less consistent than average, you should outperform [ed: I don't think this is good phrasing.] Pythagoras in terms of wins. For instance, if you score exactly the same number of runs as you allow, you should wind up a .500 team. But if you win more blowouts than average -- by scores of 15-2 and 16-6, for instance -- you'll finish at less than .500, because you've "wasted" your runs when you don't need them. And if you *lose* more blowouts than average, you'll win *more* games than 50 percent, because your opponents are "wasting" their runs.
A team that scores zero goals half the time and eight goals the rest of the time is going have the best goal differential in the world and be .500.
it's a little tough to parse this pattern out, but try to just consider the TUC games (blue and green). There the pattern is even more stark: State still scores three a ton, with one the next most popular and some other scattered numbers. Michigan's mode is two—ick—and the goal scoring is much more distributed. TUC teams are the top half of the schedule and more likely to score goals against you: here is the gap between Michigan's goal differential and its record.
Is this luck or something wrong with the team? Dan makes a case for the latter based on Michigan's style of offense this year ("chuck it at the net and see what happens") and I agree with him. The posterboy for this effect is Louie Caporusso, who has been on a tear of late against iffy goaltending and poor defensive teams but was totally stymied against the meat of the schedule. Michigan as a whole seems like TJ Hensick trying to make it in pro hockey: too good for the AHL (usually) but not good enough for the show.
This is a long and complicated way of saying that I wouldn't put as much into the goal differential as you might otherwise. I think it bodes well for Michigan next year, but maybe not this weekend.
*(For those less likely to have a collection of German board games: Bill James took a look at the numbers and found out that run differential was a better predictor of next year's record than last year's record. This finding is generally applicable and definitely applies to hockey. It's a major reason I think the hockey team will bounce back to its usual terrifying self next year. There's no place like home… no place like home… no place…)
Dangermen. Insert default complaint about Corey Tropp… no, insert a new one: it is totally ridiculous that the only punishment Corey Tropp received was missing the remainder of a season in which State had already checked out for good anyway. Michigan State had such deep respect for the idea that Corey Tropp should sit out games that they tried to stash him in the USHL so he wouldn't get rusty and only backed off that plan when someone in compliance said it would affect his eligibility. Rick Comley has permanently lost my respect, and the way this incident has played out makes me long for the day when Michigan can tell the league to GTFO and join a Big Ten hockey conference.
But anyway. Karma is busy with the Spartan football team at the moment and has ignored the above, so Tropp is Michigan State's leading scorer with a 20-22-42 line. Derek Grant has 11-18-31 and Andrew Rowe a 15-11-26, from there there's a significant dropoff. Expect Hagelin to get the Tropp line whenever they can manage it.
Defense and goalie and whatnot. Drew Palmisano has developed into one of the country's best goalies—something you could see coming as he split time with Jeff Lerg last year—and has a .922 save percentage.
Earlier in the year I suggested that Michigan State's extremely young defensive corps might be an exploitable achilles heel, but I just looked at the year next to their name and not their birthdates. None of these guys is straight out of high school and some of them can already drink. (Drink legally, that is. These are hockey players.) "Freshman" Zach Josepher is a few months away from turning 22! So nevermind on that.
The key guy on the Spartan D is Jeff Petry, a second-round pick of the Oilers who had a terrible year last year beyond just having crappy teammates but has bounced back to be both the Spartans' best offensive defenseman—22 assists—and most reliable defender. Josepher and fellow freshman-type object Torey Krug (actually younger than 20) are the next two guys on the depth chart. Krug is a smallish puck mover, Josepher more of a defensive sort.
Michigan, meanwhile, is still rolling out pint-sized walk-on Shawn Hunwick. This is good for the profile-seeking newspaper writers of Southeastern Michigan, but maybe not so good for Michigan's chances this weekend. Both of the goals Lake State scored on Friday were super soft and I'm sure everyone else is as creeped out by how often he jumps at pucks as I am. On the other hand, the two Friday goals were the only on the weekend and Hunwick did make a couple of grade A stops on Saturday to preserve his shutout.
While it's not a foregone conclusion that Hunwick is outperformed, it's pretty likely.
As a bonus, senior captain Chris Summers is out. Lee Moffie draws into the lineup, and this might mean bad things defensively. It just goes to show that I don't know everything (or even much) about hockey that I thought he was killing it when this was going down:
But after he dressed in 13 consecutive games, Moffie was pulled for his defensive lapses. In the final five games of that stretch in late January, Moffie had a plus/minus rating of minus-five. He has played in just four of the last ten games.
“I’ve known from the start that the defense is my thing that will keep me out of the lineup, they made that pretty clear,” Moffie said. “I’m an offensive defenseman, if I’m not producing and I’m out there for goals, I’m not really worth a lot to this team.”
His defensive issues must be a lot more subtle than Llewellyn's tendency to pick up dumb penalties and get caught up ice.
Special teams. Your power plays per game stat:
|PP For / G||5.6||5.7|
|PP Ag / G||5.1||5.4|
Michigan's specialty units are more effective than State's. Michigan's penalty kill is borking along at a 87.6 rate. Michigan State is in the middle of the pack (20th) at 83.2. On the flip side, neither team is much good on the powerplay. Michigan is 29th, State 34th. That's basically a wash.
Since Michigan State has a better ratio of PPs for and against, this section is basically even.
Michigan Vs Those Guys
Play like an underdog. Michigan's been playing a tighter, simpler game with Hunwick in net and the results have been fewer scary turnovers and few grade A opportunities. Michigan State is a step up from Hunwick's first four games, which were against 9th place Notre Dame and 10th place Lake State and will actually be able to generate scoring chances of their own. Michigan should play a conservative game in the hopes of protecting Hunwick.
Clone Carl Hagelin and put him on three lines.
Figure out why you are so inconsistent, especially against TUC opponents, and fix that season-long issue in a week. What? It could happen.
The Big Picture
The Pairwise still doesn't matter for Michigan. They're 25th right now: it's CCHA championship or bust. That requires winning this weekend and against Miami unless Ohio State pulls off the upset of the year in the CCHA, with Ferris State or Alaska or someone else the last hurdle. The pulse still remains faint.
On the other hand, the Pairwise implications of this series are huge for Michigan State. They sit 12th. With Bemidji State comfortably in the top eight, there is only one auto-bid that is definitely getting handed out. You could get in with a PWR as low as 15, but to be safe you'd like to get to 14 or, better, 13. If Michigan State loses this series they will take two TUC losses against zero or one wins. Depending on the results of other series, this could knock them out of the tournament entirely.
Michigan's playing for its life in this series and doesn't need anything else to motivate, but that's a nice little bonus.
|WHAT||Lake Superior @ Michigan
CCHA First Round
|WHERE||Ann Arbor, Michigan|
March 5th/6th, 2010
7:35 PM EST March 7th
|THE LINE||College hockey lines, junkie?|
|TELEVISION||Friday: Comcast Local
Saturday: Fox Sports Detroit
Michigan plays on the first weekend for the first time since the CCHA switched to its current, extremely welcoming playoff format.
Lake Superior State
Record. 15-16-15, 10-15-3-2 CCHA. Tenth place with 35 points. Overall goal differential 91 for, 107 against. Conference goal differential of 66 for, 90 against. Michigan swept (wha?) Lake Superior in the Soo 5-1 and 6-3 in late October.
Dangermen. Lake State's top scorers are all juniors. Rick Schofield has a 15-13-28 line, Will Acton 10-14-24, and Chad Nehring 12-5-17. Nehring has six power play goals and must be the designated sniper with that combination of PP effectiveness and assist paucity.
Overall, LSSU is their usual hardworking, stone-handed selves. They languish at 47th in scoring offense with just over two and half goals per game.
Defense and goalie and whatnot. Lake State's primary goalie is Sharks draft pick Brian Mahoney-Wilson, who's putting up slightly above average numbers. His .914 save percentage is 24th nationally. Lake Superior gives up a lot of shots, though, and they check in below average with a 2.97 goals against average.
Bryan Hogan's numbers remain pretty ugly but they are now irrelevant as he sits out with a groin injury. Tiny walk-on backup Shawn Hunwick will play this weekend. While Hunwick did all right against Notre Dame his first night out, Red's take on Hunwick's performance Saturday is less encouraging:
"He got out of sync," Berenson said. "He still made a couple of good saves, but those goals, he would save every day in practice. Those aren't goals that wouldn't normally go in, and he knows that. He needed to put that behind him and say, 'never mind' and move on. And he didn't."
Special teams. Your power plays per game stat:
|PP For / G||4.4||5.8|
|PP Ag / G||4.4||5.5|
If Nehring isn't scoring, no one is. LSSU's power play converts at a 16.5 percent rate, 42nd nationally. Michigan's creaky power play isn't a ton better at 18.6 percent—same as Miami!—but it is better. Michigan also remains near the top of the penalty kill charts at 87.3 percent (sixth). Lake Superior is fifteenth at 84.2. Michigan's specialty teams are marginally more effective than Lake State's.
As per usual, LSSU doesn't take or draw many penalties.
Michigan Vs Those Guys
Do whatever you did before. Michigan's crushing sweep of Lake State in October is a major reason LSSU's conference goal differential isn't much different than last place Western Michigan's and Michigan's is actually five goals better than second place Michigan State. Think about that as you slowly claw the goo from your eyes.
Keep it super simple, please. With Hogan out and a shaky Hunwick in the lineup, it's imperative to keep the turnovers down against a team that's not likely to generate a ton of good scoring chances by itself. Steve Kampfer's recent generosity should end, please.
Don't take a penalty ten seconds into your own power play four times. My head will explode. So will Tim's. Our lives are in your hands.
The Big Picture
With Michigan barely hanging on as a TUC, the Pairwise does not matter. Michigan will not get an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. As far as the conference goes, it's really hard to see either of the CCHA's two awful teams winning on the road, especially when those trips are to Alaska and Nebraska. That means Michigan is all but locked into a second-round series against Michigan State at Munn.
If the team is fortunate enough to make it to the Joe, they'll probably face Miami in the semifinal. The pulse is faint indeed.
Etc.: Is this supposed to be reassuring?
Never mind that the CCHA tournament doesn't begin until Friday. The Michigan hockey team has been in playoff mode for weeks.
It is not. Mac Bennett fight!
|WHAT||Michigan v. Ferris State|
|WHERE||Friday @ Yost
Saturday @ Ferris
January 22/23rd, 2010
|THE LINE||College hockey lines, junkie?|
|TELEVISION||CBS College Sports both nights|
Record. 16-6-2, 10-4-2-2 CCHA. #5 PWR. Currently third place with 34 points. Michigan is nine points back in a tie for sixth.
Ferris State is back with their septannual kickass team, though this edition probably isn't quite as good as the Chris Kunitz-led 2003 team that won the conference championship, made it to the CCHA playoff final, and snagged Ferris State's first and only NCAA tournament bid. They just got swept by league-leading Miami and their nonconference schedule (Canisius, UConn, Robert Morris, single games against Yale and Merrimack) is exceedingly weak. That 2003 team was a legitimate national power. This appears to be a solid team a step or two down from those guys.
Even so, there's one team playing this weekend on the cusp of a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament and it's not Michigan. And Ferris's goal differentials are impressive. They're +30 overall and +18 in the CCHA. They are fifth in scoring margin at 1.25. (Michigan is 11th.) They are for serious.
Dangermen. Ferris has one line that does a huge chunk of their scoring. Seniors Blair Riley (right), Cody Chupp, and Casey Haines are the top line and Ferris's leading scorers; Riley is far and away the top guy with 16 goals and 27 points. Chupp has seven and a couple of other guys are hovering around that mark, but Ferris is a top-heavy team.
Defense and goalie and whatnot. Ferris is built on an extremely stingy defense. They're tied for third nationally with Cornell at just 2.12 GPG; goalie Pat Nagle has a nation-leading .932 save percentage. (He's tied with two others, FWIW.) Ferris actually rotates its goalies, with Nagel and sophomore Taylor Nelson both getting 13 games to date. Nelson's got the better record but Nagel is giving up a half-goal less per game. Nelson's save percentage is a stellar .921.
With two goalies sporting save percentages that Patrick Roy would envy, Ferris State has either stumbled onto a goalie gold mine or the defense has a large influence on those numbers. Expect tight-checking, tough games without a ton of grade A scoring chances.
Special teams. Your updated power plays per game stat:
|PP For / G||6.0||5.8|
|PP Ag / G||5.6||5.5|
Essentially even with Ferris a tiny bit more likely to pick up penalties for and against. And there will be penalties. Ferris is #2 in penalty minutes acquired*. Michigan is #10. Also, when these teams face off it tends to get chippy.
The specialty units will get a ton of time, then. They're dead even. Ferris State is converting a little better on the power play but has allowed three shorthanded goals; if you take those into account Michigan actually outperforms them slightly. The penalty kills are outstanding. Ferris is #3 at 88.8%. Michigan is #4 at 88.5%. Since Ferris has a couple extra shorthanded goals their penalty kill is a little better. The two teams could be any more more identical here.
PROTIP: don't take an obvious holding penalty seven seconds into a kill.
*(Possibly interesting side note: despite UAF's uncharacteristic penalty-fest last weekend they are still the least-penalized team in the country by a wide margin. Meanwhile, the team that beat out Ferris for #1 is Alaska-Anchorage. Alaska: land of extremes.)
Michigan Vs Those Guys
Line match where possible. It's a home and home series so the Saturday game will be tricky, but the obvious move is to put Michigan's crazy fast fore-check and shutdown line of Lynch, Hagelin, and Rust on Riley and anyone else who wants to skate with him. Berenson has explicitly stated this is the plan:
“I don’t want to put an inexperienced player out there against the top player in the league and then expect us to win that matchup,” Berenson said. “We have to respect who is on the ice for them and who is on the ice for us.”
While the top lines on both teams highlight the matchup, it’s the players behind them that will be the difference this weekend.
“You’re trying to outscore that line or shut them down,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “But in the meantime, if you do, and they're nullifying you at the same time, then it comes down to your next line or your next line and where are you going to get your offense from?”
Continue to get supporting players scoring. Whether it's Brian Lebler firing wicked wrist shots off the post and in or Lindsey Sparks coming out of the corner or Chris Brown turning into a face-masked version of Thomas Holmstrom, Michigan is going to need to get some production out of guys who aren't the stars of the team. Caporusso and Wohlberg continue to scuffle. Though they continue to put up assists, Brian Lebler now has more goals than they do. Lebler's actually tied for third on the team with seven, and while that's super cool for him it's a major reason Michigan's had trouble this year.
Play from ahead. Yes, this is dangerously close to a Key To The Game that boils down to "score more points."
An attempt at something not tautological: this is not the other Ferris team. That was an offensive machine capable of generating points not only from Kunitz but from a wide array of offensive defensemen. This is a gritty grit Eckstein of a team with one standout player that Carl Hagelin will be tasked with destroying. Michigan cannot afford to give up a goal like the Chad Langlais turnover against UAF, because teams like Ferris and Alaska are built to play from ahead. Just look at the difference between UAF in the third period on Friday and Saturday. On Friday they were overrun; on Saturday they played keep-away for 15 minutes before Langlais got his redemption.
The Big Picture
Just keep repeating "it was a win and a tie and the shootout was an exhibition" about last weekend. That makes Michigan 3-0-1 since the break. That is a roll, especially since they played very well in the tie save for one turnover and one terrible penalty kill.
They're now a TUC and hovering at 19th in the standings facing down a two week stretch that will probably make or break their at-large hopes. If they sweep the next two weekends they're gold. If they go 3-1 they are feeling very good about their chances with a selection of weak CCHA teams coming up and a bunch of guaranteed TUC wins in the bag. If they go 2-2 they have to really tear through the back end of the schedule, and anything worse than that is curtains.
A win and a tie from the weekend would be great.
THEY'RE COMING. ACTUALLY THEY'RE PROBABLY ALREADY HERE.
|WHAT||Michigan v. Alaska|
|WHERE||Yost Ice Arena, Ann Arbor, MI|
January 15/16th, 2010
|THE LINE||College hockey lines, junkie?|
|TELEVISION||Friday on FSN Plus
No TV Saturday
What's this then?
It's a hockey weekend preview. Am I doing this solely because of the bear video? No. Ten percent of the desire to do this results from Yost Built's lamentable "job" that prevents him from posting as fully as he usually does. [Update: so of course he posts a ten things.]
Record. 10-6-4, 7-6-3-3 CCHA. Currently 4th place with 27 points. Michigan is tied for seventh but has two games in hand.
After a hot start during which the Nanooks picked up wins over Michigan and Ferris (twice), Alaska has cooled off significantly. They split with UNO last weekend and split with UNO the last week before the Christmas break. Before that, they got one point out of Western Michigan and tied Northern twice. Before that they had three splits, two of them against Lake State and Bowling Green. They, like Michigan, have been an almost perfectly .500 hockey club since about mid-November.
Road/home splits don't mean much in hockey, IME, but I make an exception when you're coming from Alaska and spend weeks at a time on the road and I've seen you wander into Yost to get hammered 8-0 on Friday only to win the next night. So: Alaska is 7-2-3 in Alaska* and 3-4-1 outside of it.
*(UAF opened up the season with a preseason "tournament"—there were no brackets—in Anchorage where they played Michigan and Mercyhurst, winning both.)
Dangermen. Freshman winger Andy Taranto is Alaska's top scorer with a 9-15-24 line, good enough for 29th nationally. (And better than any Michigan player. Carl "Bork" Hagelin is Michigan's top scorer with 12-13-25 in two more games. When was the last time Michigan's top scorer was outside the top ten in PPG, let along the top… uh… 38?) Taranto is second in freshman scoring; Alaska appears to have picked up a diamond in the rough.
Dion Knelsen is the other big(-ish) gun with 10-9-19; no other Nanook has more than five goals.
As a team, Alaska has a little more pop than usual. They check in slightly below average in scoring at 2.90 goals per game.
Defense and goalie and whatnot. Alaska usually substitutes grit, hard work, and caution for scoring prowess and this year is not much of an exception. After losing Wylie Rogers and his .922 save percentage, in comes sophomore Scott Greenham and his respectable .914. That's 23rd nationally. Bryan Hogan is 54th of 75 eligible at .900.
Alaska is 11th in scoring defense at 2.40 goals per game.
Special teams. As is almost always the case, Michigan goes into this series expecting to take more penalties than the opponent. But it's not usually this stark. Michigan is 9th nationally with 17.3 penalties per game; Alaska is dead last with a measly 172 minutes—8.6 per game—on the season so far. That's somewhat misleading, though. I prefer power play opportunities since that measure washes out things like misconducts and coincidental minors. It allso gives you a sense for how good a team is at forcing penalties out of the opponent:
|PP For / G||5.1||5.6|
|PP Ag / G||4||5.4|
The difference isn't nearly as stark from that perspective, but Alaska does have an advantage.
This is where Alaska makes its hay. They're 22/102 on the power play so far this year and haven't given up a shorthanded goal. They're scoring at a 21.6 percent rate, better than Michigan—though not much better. (Given how much I dislike Michigan's power play I'm surprised it's converting at a respectable 20.2 percent rate.) The penalty kill is just okay at 83.8 percent and zero shorthanded goals. But, again, they don't end up in the box much.
Michigan's Hagelin-led penalty kill (third nationally at 89%) is the best aspect of the team, FWIW.
Michigan Vs Those Guys
Obvious: keep out of the box. Alaska has scored 36 even-strength goals in 20 games and will be on the road, where they are vulnerable. Michigan has 43 goals in 22 games at even strength, and while that doesn't seem like a big gap it does get bigger when you account for the two extra power plays that occur in an average Michigan game.
Match Hagelin on Taranto and Knelsen. Alaska's a team that has one main line and Michigan's got the best defensive forward in the CCHA.
Equally obvious: freakin' score. Michigan started the year off in Alaska with a game that foretold this year's incredible frustrations, outshooting the opponent 2-to-1 but failing to put a puck in the net and losing 2-0; Bryan Hogan gave up a soft goal from just inside the blue line.
Michigan had a huge territorial edge in that game and figures to have more of the same this weekend, but the story all year has been failing to make that edge count.
Jump on them early Friday. I've been watching UAF wander into Yost for a decade now and I don't think I've seen them not get bombed in the first period of the Friday game. If Michigan doesn't come out of tonight's first period with a lead that's a major missed opportunity.
The Big Picture
If Michigan sweeps Alaska we can prepare for a critical Ferris series with hope in our hearts, but it just about has to be a sweep. I guess a three-point weekend is theoretically helpful but Michigan hasn't tied a game in almost two years* and at this point Michigan is so far behind the eight-ball that they can't give away home games against average hockey teams.
Can they? It is obviously within the realm of possibility, but it's hard to go back any farther than the sweep against a terrible Western team and have faith in this team's ability to turn its huge advantage in shots and chances into wins. I lean towards a split, but hockey games are even dumber things to predict than football games so will forgo anything on the record.
*(The last one was a 5-5 tie with Miami on February 9th of 2008 that finished a stretch of four ties in five games. Michigan hasn't gone to overtime since the CCHA implemented the shootout.)
Right, so hockey coverage has been nonexistent. This changes... now!
The Story So Far
Yuck. Awesome. What? ARRRRGH.
Basically that. Michigan started the season with a walkover of overmatched opponents, though the Saturday UConn game provided a dark foreshadowing of what was to come when Michigan was sailing through, up 6-0, when they let the UConn Connecticut Huskies of UConn Who Suck score five straight goals in a game no one saw because it was on at the same time the Penn State game was. So what happened? You got me. I was busy watching Alan Branch eat Anthony Morelli's face.
...but I can guess!
- Matt Hunwick got walked around at least twice.
- Billy Sauer faced several slapshots from the Josh Blackburn zone of you let that in?
- The third and fourth lines got caught in their zones for entire shifts.
- The freshmen defensemen brought gift baskets overflowing with turnovers.
That's wild speculation, mind you.
After an understandable split with Miami -- one of the three teams in the CCHA who have separated themselves from the pack at this early date -- Michigan faced perennial Hockey East bottom-dweller Northeastern and freakin' split, losing 3-2 despite outshooting the Huskies 47-20. (Many goals, few shots will be a theme.) That loss will be a PWR anchor all year. The season's low point came the next Friday, when Michigan went to Munn and turned a 3-1 lead after one into a 7-4 loss.
Then they ran off seven straight wins. Go figure, I don't know. They even kept the puck out of the net, keeping opponents to two or fewer goals in five of the seven wins, and against fairly quality competition: two MSU games, two against UNO, one against Wisconsin (though the Badgers are inexplicably terrible this year). Then came Minnesota, the #1 team in the country, and an 8-2 loss featuring four (four! F-O-U-R!) shorthanded goals, a dismal loss to Western that featured horrible play from Sauer, Hunwick, and Chris Summers, and a skin-of-their-teeth win at Lawson featuring Steve Jakiel in net. Jakiel did not exactly show himself to be Michigan's knight in shining armor, giving up 5 goals on 29 shots.
Michigan stands at 12-5-0 right now, headed for another tournament bid and neck-and-neck with Notre Dame and Miami for the league title but not a serious threat to do anything in April unless they stop fishing the puck out of the net every five minutes.
What's Gone Right
- TJ Hensick. Long dogged by accusations of selfishness -- though not from this quarter -- Hensick's senior year is turning into the best display of passing I've ever seen anyone in a Michigan uniform put on. Kevin Porter has Milan Gajic disease something wicked but still has 13 goals and 16 assists because he's getting two glorious chances per period on Hensick's wing. David Rohlfs was such an offensive force he played D for the past two years; this year he's averaging over a PPG and has already smashed past his previous season high for points (13 as a freshman forward) by seven. Why? Because Hensick is a dirty mofo, that's why. Theory: they should put Brandon Naurato on his wing just because he can shoot, and that's all he can do. It worked for Andy Hilbert.
- Jack Johnson. An erratic freshman season where Johnson won the crowd's admiration but not many games has been followed up by pure domination. A force at both ends of the ice, this is the Jack Johnson who went in the top five of the NHL draft. One thing: someone who does not play 30 flawless minutes a night should probably be the one getting fighting majors when Sauer gets run.
- David Rohlfs. Sure, he's the beneficiary of all those Hensick passes, but let's review: 10-10-20 with little powerplay time from a player who was a non-entity on offense before this season. Red always liked Rohlfs, placing him on the powerplay when he was a freshman, but never got much production out of him. Rohlfs does the dirty work for the Hensick line and gets rewarded for it. May be playing himself into Edmonton's fall camp.
- Brian Lebler. For a guy who never scored in junior, Lebler sure has some stickhandling ability. He makes a lot of smart little plays, takes the body, and is working his way up onto the Cogliano line slowly but surely.
What's Gone Wrong
Billy Sauer. We're approximately a year and a half into Sauer's career and there's no evidence he's good at hockey. While Sauer's not exactly playing behind the 1994 Devils here, he's also posting a .892 save percentage. Last year he posted a .898. In the USHL he did a little better at .904, but was still beat out Shane Connolly -- now Brian Elliot's backup at Wisconsin and a major suck vortex his freshman year at .885 in nine games, five of them rare UW losses -- and his .911.
That's the statistical case against him. He saves nothing. The anecdotal case against him is equally simple: last week against Western Michigan I'm pretty sure I saw him toss his blocker at a shot that wasn't even on net and deflect it into the goal.
This is different than Al Montoya, who clearly didn't give half a crap his junior year and had a proven track record of being damn good. There was always a chance he would snap out of it. Sauer has left a trail of "meh" in his wake and it's unlikely to get any better. Unfortunately, Noah Ruden's gone and Jakiel... well, Jakiel was beat out by a recruit we have coming in next year and traded. Also, five goals against.
Still, we've seen a lot from Sauer and all indications are that he's just a bad goalie. Platooning Jakiel may reveal him to be a better option.
Defensemen not named "Jack Johnson" and "Tim Cook" (seriously!). (That Cook-to-forward experiment was a disaster I hope we won't see repeated -- with Dest out for the next month with a shoulder injury and Jack gone for the WJC, I'm sure to get that particular wish until at least January. Cook has turned into a reliable, uninspiring defenseman. At forward he may as well not even have a stick. Anyway.) I don't know what's with Matt Hunwick, but ever since the game-losing goal against Wisconsin where Hunwick's man split him and a shocked Jack Johnson, I panic when I see him one-on-one against an onrushing player. And shockingly, I've been right to do so this year. People just dance past him on a weekly basis. It's amazing. Senior captain: take the damn body.
Summers and Kampfer have been turnover machines and generally tetchy, but as freshmen they have a built in excuse. Summers, at the least, skates gorgeously and clearly has tremendous upside, but too many times this year he's weakly attempted to purse-check his opponents and watched them waltz in for scoring opportunities.
- Lines without Hensick and Cogliano on them. The third line is close to getting off the dreaded MGoBlog naughty-word-for-poop list, but we need more crash and bang and less "help I can't break out of this zone." The only guys on the team who are minus overall other than statistical blip Anthony Ciraulo? Turnbull, Lebler, and Bailey (a frightening -9). The fourth line is a mishmash of JJ Swistak 2006 -- no offense, Fardig, I always liked Swistak -- a guy who can't do anything but shoot, and whichever walkon is so not being Trevor Lewis on this particular night. Effective? Not so much.
A fundamentally flawed team that's riding the brilliant performances of a few amazing players. Hensick, Johnson, and to a certain extent Andrew Cogliano are carrying the team. The offseason defections of Lewis, MacVoy, and Swystun are being felt keenly, as that's the difference between the Michigan teams of years past where gu ys like Gajic and Ryznar were our third-liners and this one. While no one would ever confuse Gajic and his sawdust stick with stardom, he was still a plus player who you could count on for double-digit goals and a whole lot of gorgeous misses. Once you get past the Hensick and Cogliano lines, the offensive skill consists of some flashes from Lebler and the (very) occasional wicked wrister Naurato gets off. Top heavy are the Wolverines.
Defensively, Johnson's dominant and then Mitera and Cook are competent. Hunwick is still an enigma; Dest and the two freshmen are turnover machines. No quarter necessary.
And then there's goal. While Sauer's not the only issue -- he's been five goals worse than a goalie with an NCAA-average (.904) save percentage, and removing those five goals moves Michigan up from 44th of 59 in GA all the way to... 37th! -- he, like junior Montoya before him, has been obviously subpar. Combine that with festival de turnover and hello sir I would like you to have a breakaway, especially shorthanded and you get bad.
Good news: if the defense tightens up and cuts down on the opposition's chances and the third line gives up and just traps the hell out of everyone, the top-end talent on Michigan's roster is enough to outscore just about anyone. Bad news: unlikely to happen, and Sauer's probably not going to get a visit from the Goalie Fairy with five-hole caulk anytime soon.
In a battle all the way with ND and Miami for the CCHA title. Probably finish second. Tournament bid as a 2 or 3 seed; fate depends heavily on opponent. WCHA = WCH-dead. Grinding team a la Cornell? Probably okay. Frozen Four unlikely; national championship verrry unlikely.