10/25/2013 – Michigan 2, Boston University 1, 4-0-1
10/26/2013 – Michigan 1, UMass-Lowell 2, 4-1-1
There was a moment Friday night when BU had scratched out a goal and managed to hold out 30 or so Michigan shots when I looked up at the scoreboard and it felt like that Ryan Miller game oh so long ago, when Michigan bombed a passive Michigan State outfit, outshot them 31-13, and managed to lose 1-0, because that's what happens when you put Ryan Friggin' Miller in Ron Mason anti-hockey. MSU won a game they didn't score in that year. Whenever Michigan doesn't score with a lot of shots I think of that game. If you need to keep me out of your house for whatever reason (mom), just put a picture of Ryan Miller on your doors and windows; I will react to it like a vampire reacts to a cross.
Even so, watching the scoreboard grimly read "0" as the number below it skyrocketed was kind of great at the same time is was monstrously frustrating. Those Michigan teams were killers when not arrayed against Ryan Friggin' Miller. BU was coming off a 7-3 thrashing of presumed Big Ten favorite Wisconsin and for most of the game they could barely conspire to exit their own zone. Michigan was killing those guys everywhere except the scoreboard.
A goal was clearly coming, because BU's guy was only okay, and it did, and was waved off, and came again, and then Alex Guptill got a questionable penalty shot in his favor, and that went in, and clearly everything about those 30-some shots that went wrong was just a fluke and Michigan was going to ride roughshod over college hockey, screaming incoherent things about getting yours for last year.
Fast forward 24 hours and Michigan's coming off a loss in which they put up one goal on 39 shots, that a fluke where the puck popped out in front of the net for Evan Allen to shovel in unassisted. Since no one saw the seven goal explosion against an RIT team, I've watched an awful lot of Michigan hockey this year without seeing many, you know, goals. I have seen a lot of shots that would be goals if goalies were donut-shaped. This may be helpful against Wisconsin, but not at the moment.
At some point the massive pile of shots without corresponding goals is just who you are. That point is… probably after the season. Hockey is random as hell. But we're in the business of extrapolating from small samples here, and this team seems like some of the Hagelin teams where they'd dominate possession, outshoot the opponent on the regular, and sometimes lose because they didn't have an every-night offensive standout.
After last year, the reaction to this is HELL YES, but there was moment on Friday when it seemed like they might take the expectations for them and crush them into a thousand pieces. Michigan scratched out the third period against BU to go 4-0-1 against a brutal schedule, and delusions of grandeur flitted up from below.
The Lowell game was a reality check. They are not mid-90s Berenson vintage. They are a convincing imitation at times, threadbare at others. They seem like a team of Milan Gajics, perpetually on the verge of scoring but somehow never doing so. There's been a lot of that particular hockey-crowd anguish where each subsequent puck that does not go in the net amps up the howling.
I mean, yeah, okay. This team is still a breath of fresh air compared to last year. It's fun watching them lift everyone's stick, fun watching Compher and Motte play the Gardner and Gallon telepathy game, fun watching a harmless shot go at the net and not fearing it will go in. That last one may not actually be fun. It may be more realizing that the possum that had been gnawing your arm for the last decade finally died and fell off. But that's enough to flip a quarter and whistle about.
Sun's out. Time for a stroll. Now someone just put the black disk in the red thing.
[After the JUMP: penalty shots, ref shots, all sorts of shots, shots on shots on shots]
A HAIL OF BULLETS that don't go in
Die by the questionable penalty shot. Derek DeBlois got called for the world's worst penalty shot in New Hampshire; seems like BU got nailed with almost the exact same call. On both a stick lift from behind may have gotten in on the hands a tiny bit on an otherwise excellent and legal defensive play. Did they change a rule or something? I don't remember anything about not having legal options on a guy who's clean through.
Get bigger pads, buddy. BU's huge goaltender's huge pads did not help him in on that penalty shot, which was the easiest five-hole goal I've ever seen. Puck was in the net before that guy even thought about getting off his feet.
At least they fixed that thing. Michigan's waved-off goal against BU had to be waved off because college hockey fixed one of the worst rules in sports recently: goals that are obviously going in the net still count even if it gets knocked off a split second before the puck goes in. That caused the ref to point-point-point and signal a goal until the replay showed a Michigan player had shoveled it in with his hand.
Now, about offsides…
(Seriously, they should let offsides go as long as the offsides player immediately tags up.)
They are who they are. Six games in it seems like preseason prognostications on the defense were pretty much on point. It's is Mac Bennett and five guys trying to hold it together. De Jong and Downing seem the best of the remainder, with Lohan a still-developing defensive defenseman. Clare is still Clare: the puck stops when it hits his stick and leaves a long time later. Serville is still Serville: a purveyor of mistakes. This is okay, I guess.
It's huge for Michigan that Lohan was able to come in and play this year. While he's still a bit slow for the pace of the game sometimes, being 6'5" covers up for a lot of that. Third and fourth lines can't do much with that guy looming all over the place.
Bennett has also lived up to the hype. He is all over the ice, making plays that only a combination of his skating ability and physicality can manage. He's more active on the rush this year, as well, ramping that ability back up after toning it down for the year of Trouba. (Who was in the building, making me think argh I mean you shouldn't have come back but WHY DIDN'T YOU COME BACK.) Several times over the weekend Michigan's strategy for gaining the zone on the power play was giving it to Bennett and getting out of his way. TJ Hensick had that ability, and there's the first time anyone has ever compared anything about TJ Hensick to a defenseman.
They are not who they were. Goalie, on the other hand, is night and day from last year. Nagelvoort's sporting a .947 in three and a half games, which means he's letting a third of the goals the non-Racine guy did last year. Sample sizes, etc., but Nagelvoort is another guy in the large dude with huge pads genre; he's got a good glove, too. Now he just needs to work on playing the puck, on which he's pretty scary.
The Big East/Michigan challenge: success. Big Ten, not so much. Michigan's 3-1-1 record against Hockey East is going to stand for the season, and that should be huge in the Pairwise* as long as Michigan takes care of business against the Big Ten.
Unfortunately, other than Minnesota the rest of the league got blitzed: MSU was swept by UMass before splitting with the same BU/Lowell pairing Michigan took on this weekend; Wisconsin got smoked 9-2 and 7-3 by BU/BC; Penn State lost to Vermont; OSU is not playing any HE teams and that's probably a good thing after they lost to BGSU.
That means Michigan has to maintain a good record against MSU/UW/PSU to maintain their advantage. That seems doable what with two of those teams being terrible.
*[The Pairwise underwent some significant modifications this offseason to make it less stupidly random, so hopefully this statement is less true than it has been. I haven't examined the upshot of them seriously yet.]
Ref note. I didn't recognize either of the refs this weekend. Both are formerly of the WCHA and are supposed to be NCHC refs this year: CJ Beaurline was one, Notoriously Terrible Todd Anderson the second. I guess they brought in neutral refs? That would be a departure; in the past nonconference series have always been worked by CCHA guys.
Other than the penalty shot I don't think they had much in the way of controversy. The PDG major could have been two, maybe, but my instant thought was "that's five" when I saw it.
Speaking of that… yeesh. Di Giuseppe had a good game prior to that—eight of Michigan's shots—but that was pretty awful. Wonder if he'll get the trap door down to the fourth line, where Moffatt is toiling without reward.
Honestly, I wouldn't mind seeing DeBlois get swapped with Moffatt, who's skating hard this year and has a lot of jump. A team that's struggling to score goals may not want a plugger like DeBlois with two of their most talented guys.
Depth, though. When you've got a guy like Moffatt, who's started the year well and is coming off a 22 point season, on the fourth line you've got a ton of forward depth. Michigan's first three lines all have talent on them, and if those shooting percentages nose up to middling it's going to be a problem for opponents.
I would like to see Selman get a crack at that fourth line center spot. Lynch is okay defensively but has never been much of a standout, and I liked Selman's pairing with Hyman last year. That line was effective even in the doldrums midseason.