Inevitably, Michigan's come down a bit from its dominating post-Merrill streak. After a month of games rarely competitive enough to require the opposition goalie to be pulled, Michigan's won two of the last four in overtime. A third they lost; the fourth was a one-goal game with five minutes to go before a power play goal gave Michigan room to breathe.
While they remain one of the hottest teams in the country—probably still the hottest team—it's just that… man, they are mortal. Very much so. Saturday confirmed that. Watching Mac Bennett cough up an unbelievable turnover gets that point halfway home; cowering after Jon Freakin' Merrill got ostentatiously walked for a goal drives it the rest of the way. And don't get me started on the third pairing.
It is easy to construct ways in which Michigan gets beaten in the tourney. Maybe it's better to know that going in, to not be regarding the NCAA tournament as anything other than sport's most terrifying random number generator, but dammit I've been watching Michigan play hockey for 13 years and every year my soul has ended up sobbing on the floor of a Steak 'n' Shake bathroom. I don't like reminders of the ways in which these things happen.
I'm getting plenty of those of late. Both overtime winners were plinko specials. A puck slides under a Michigan State defenseman despite that guy dropping to one knee and Michigan's fourth line sweeps one in from point blank range. Northern throws a puck up the boards that just happens to hit Glendening in the tape and he flings it cross-ice to Treais, who does what Treais does and fires a laser-guided missile into the net.
It's great to get wins like that, sure. You are either unfamiliar with college hockey or a great dirty liar if it doesn't make you nervous, though. In April this team is going to be going up against team after team like they have in the second half of the season. They'll never meet last year's North Dakota. There is no last year's North Dakota. This means however they lose, if they lose, will be brutal.
Michigan's looking good for a one seed but we've seen puck after puck that cares nothing for expectation and craves only chaos, and it's getting to be that time of year. Prepare the antacid and whiskey: playoff hockey is around the corner.
It's impossible to think things like the above and look at Michigan's RPI chart within minutes of each other without saying a little prayer of thanks that this…
…was not the season*. But now we're over it and have been talking about what Michigan needs to be a one seed for two months. Michigan has been as close to a dominant team as you can be for a long time now, and instead of being grateful to extend the tourney streak I'm steeling myself for the usual combination of anticipation and dread that accompanies single elimination hockey.
This is probably why I advised everyone to savor the final few games of basketball season. That team can be happy with being there. Hockey can't even if the above stretch threatened the tourney streak. Hockey has become a ghost-ridden thing over the past dozen years. Once recovery is in the rear view the tournament looms ahead, silent, red-haired, and wild-eyed. Loki is coming, and he has been kind recently. Be afraid.
*[How bizarre is that Ferris State sweep in retrospect? Ferris is going to win the league bar a sweep by Western and is in pretty good shape for a one-seed itself. Michigan destroyed them in the midst of their horrendous stretch.]
The latter does a great job of emphasizing how frequently Pateryn was annihilating various Wildcats.
Michigan moved up to second on the weekend but still loses comparisons with two teams, BC and UMD. Thanks to Michigan's GLI win over the Eagles, passing BC is a simple matter of finishing ahead of them in RPI. Any other scenario that sees Michigan take the comparison also has M ahead in RPI, so that's easy enough.
UMD is a tougher, more annoying matter. They're getting significantly beat in RPI but win both COP (thanks to M's split against Western) and TUC. They're about a game in front there despite the RPI gap. Michigan will need them to limp down the stretch.
UMD is the only comparison it looks like Michigan can lose based on RPI right now thanks to BU's loss to BC in the Beanpot. That evened Michigan's COP with BU and there's nothing the Bulldogs can do about that except make it worse until the playoffs.
Playing BG is good and bad. They should be easy to beat but they provide no upside. A sweep barely budges Michigan's RPI; a split will see them drop.
Upshot for the people who don't care about the details: Michigan should finish at most one spot below their RPI ranking, which is currently second but could drop to fifth or sixth if they don't play well. If they take care of BGSU this weekend they will probably get a one seed as long as they reach and go 1-1 at the Joe. You hate Duluth and want them to die.
BONUS: Remember how I said Northern was on the bubble despite being ninth last week? At 16th they'd be out of the tournament if it started today. Do not look at bracketology columns. They are more pointless than college hockey polls.
Revisiting Luke Glendening. After Glendening had a bad weekend in which he seemed at least partially responsible for three separate Notre Dame goals, I pointed out that he'd been dragging in +/- terms and scoring and that he'd have been exiled to the fourth line if he wasn't the captain.
This had the same effect as painting 1,181 across your hairless chest might. Since then he's had points in 5 of 6 games and has a 1-6-7 line as the second line has scored every night. Yeah, he's benefiting from AJ Treais's insane run of top shelf snipes, but he's getting Treais the puck in situations where he can unleash his shot. See: OT winner last night.
I got AJ Treais all wrong. I called him a less dynamic TJ Hensick, but this is not right. Right now he's a less dynamic Mike Cammalleri. Cammalleri is the magic midget with the most lethal shot in MGoMemory, and Treais is a threat to water bottles all over the Gongshow at the moment.
Wait… what? A quick glimpse at Michigan's stats shows Lee Moffie at the top of the scoring charts with 6-23-29. That is a lot of points. He, too, has been on a mighty run the last three weekends, scoring three goals and assisting on six others. I say Michigan shortens its bench considerably in the playoffs and rides their top two pairings extensively.
Speaking of… Michigan tried to mitigate the issues with their third pairing by breaking Merrill and Moffie apart so that there was always at least one guy Red trusts on the ice at all times. This did not go so well. Chiasson had a couple of brutal turnovers, Merrill made some plays in his defensive zone that clearly indicated he had no faith in the freshman, and pairing Moffie with Serville was asking to die along the boards. Michigan eventually went back to their earlier plan and now seem stuck with it.
This seems like a situation where Michigan should go full Krug with their top four guys, no?
This can backfire. I remember a certain game against Maine back in the day—Comrie's last game, so 2000—during which Michigan rode five defenseman until the fifth got injured. They had only four and Bob Gassoff*—and by the end of that game Mike Komisarek could barely move. After Comrie got a half-breakaway and converted five-hole, Maine got Michigan stuck in their own zone and wore them down in the third period. The goals that followed felt inevitable.
So you have to get some shifts for the third pairing guys in, but offensive zone faceoffs only against guh opponents only, please.
*[Bob Gassoff is now a Navy Seal and could probably rip my head off with two fingers. So it is with some trepidation that I reveal that as a student I once cried out "WHY EVEN GIVE HIM A STICK?" when Red iced Gassoff at some point that year. He was a guy with no discernible skill except fighting people, which is discouraged. If you think this year's defense is frighteningly thin you have no idea. Just no idea at all.]
Third line. Still bupkis. They'll get something against BG, right? I mean, they have to one of these days.
I predicted that Jon Merrill would have a bounce back series after last weekends MSU fiasco. The thing that has always separated Merrill from others is his hockey I.Q. You either have it or you don't, things like this can't not be taught.
This play starts out as a regular clear for the Wildcats, nothing special just a puck sent out of the zone.
Head up the whole way Merrill gets the puck from Moffie and finds Deblois cutting through the middle.
The Northerners are all kinds of confused, obviously since the blueliner has closed his legs like he's in shot blocking position.
As you can see they are caught way out of position.
The only play left for NMU is to go for the hook, bring him down and try your luck on the PK. Deblois does a great job of keeping the puck and staying on his feet to finish the play off.
“The way he’s been putting the puck in the net, I kinda was a little premature on my celebration,” Pateryn said. “My gloves weren’t off, but hands went up. ... Thankfully, he put it in.”
Press conference recaps from Friday and Saturday from Michigan Hockey Net. I was surprised that Berenson was so down on the Friday performance; I felt like they were mostly dominant 5x5 and got screwed on penalties. They got caught in their own zone three or four times and gave up scary chances but I don't think that's a matter of toughness; it's just that the third pairing is scary.