Let's Have A Hockey Autopsy

Let's Have A Hockey Autopsy Comment Count

Brian March 13th, 2019 at 4:23 PM

Hockey's season went out with a whimper as they were swept at the hands of Minnesota in the first round of the Big Ten tournament. That's disappointing but not particularly surprising for anyone who watched most of Michigan's season.

What went wrong? Michigan's various problems follow.

Age

Michigan was one of the youngest teams in the country, and the bottom of the age standings are pretty ugly:

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ND and Denver are in the top 16 of the pairwise. Otherwise this is a list of the teams that generally recruit the best across college hockey and are struggling in the new over-30 NCAA. Not one of Minnesota, Michigan, BC, BU, or Wisconsin is in position for an at-large bid. It should be noted that 50-52 are Quinnipiac, Providence, and Harvard, who are all set for at-large bids, but even those teams in close proximity by rank are almost a half-year older than Michigan and the rest of the "we recruit the NTDP" class.

Under Pearson they've moved to taking more overagers, but those guys are all underclassmen. Michigan is in the process of having some 23 and 24 year olds; they are not there yet. At some point Michigan's going to be a mix of older players and high-level NHL prospects. Currently they are young and had 1.5 high-level prospects. Speaking of:

Talent level

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Norris was M's only PPG scorer and missed half the year [Bill Rapai]

As discussed in the previous post about Michigan's gap year, this year's freshman class had zero drafted players for the first time in probably 20 years. Michigan found a good fourth line as Moyle and Van Whye emerged midseason; that line then became their de facto second line because nobody else was doing anything. Compounding matters was the previous class, which was Hughes and Norris (woot woot!) plus Mike Pastujov, whose star fell precipitously after his commitment, and then whatever Mel could scrape up. That turned out to be Becker and Raabe, two guys who have chipped in but aren't scoring line players at this point in their career.

So when Norris goes out midseason, they have zero underclassman forwards capable of playing on a scoring line. This is untenable for a program that is constantly getting raided by the NHL—you aren't getting Cooper Marody back for a senior year.

Michigan did have some guys: Lockwood put up 31 points in 36 games; Slaker and Pastujov put up 25 and 24. It's not a coincidence that two of the three top scorers were older draftees. There just weren't enough of them. Michigan has always been more talented than all of its opponents, which is how they make up the perpetual age gap. This year they weren't. Opposing goaltenders put up a .914; Michigan was 41st in shooting percentage. Even more telling: Michigan's power play conversion rate nearly halved from 19% (average-ish) to 10% (national worst) when Norris went out.

[After THE JUMP: woe! fie and woe!]

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Extra Point: Penn State

Extra Point: Penn State Comment Count

Adam Schnepp January 31st, 2019 at 10:00 AM

Another weekend, another split, another missed opportunity to stop the wheels from spinning and gain ground on a possible at-large tournament berth. In broad strokes, Michigan played to their 2019 standard in this weekend’s series with Penn State. After beating #6 Notre Dame on the road, Michigan dropped a home game to lowly Merrimack. After eking out a 2-1 win over #4 Ohio State, Michigan dropped the second game, 4-2. Then a 5-1 win over #15 Penn State got Michigan close enough to cracking the Pairwise top 20 that David was considering penning a rooting guide for this weekend’s games only to have those plans shelved after a 5-2 loss in the series finale.

It would stand to reason, then, that there must be two different version of Michigan Jekyll-and-Hyde-ing its way through the season, but the team that won handily Thursday and the one that got blown out Saturday are much more similar than different: periods of excellent shot generation, some stagnation where good teams get shots against M in clusters, and occasional difficulty exiting the defensive zone that’s related to the second point. Every game features a period or two where Michigan dominates, and more often than not it’s via forechecking pressure that leads to offensive opportunities. The one thing that seems to change is attention to detail; when Michigan’s engaged, they’re difficult to stop, and when they’re disengaged they’re likely to serve up supercilious turnovers, the kind that arrive at your table with an extra server, present the food from the left side only, and make a show out of rotating the plate. (If I got that wrong blame Google.)

Michigan got out to a sluggish start on Thursday night, allowing Penn State a Corsi-dominant first period (58% possession, 10 of 25 shot attempts from the House) before flipping the script in the second period (56% possession, seven of 19 shot attempts from the House). Michigan ended the second period up 4-0 and was able to drop guys back defensively and wait out the final 20 minutes. On Saturday, Michigan was four struck posts away from a series sweep—if not for a half dozen preventable turnovers. Michigan’s offense was excellent in the first period, its 30 attempts what was statistically its best period of shot generation of the series, including an impressive 14 from the House area in front of the net. Michigan ended that period down 3-0, though, and went down 4-0 within two minutes of the start of the second period. Drawing iron and seemingly every turnover being converted into a Penn State goal took the life out of Michigan, and they mustered a paltry 36% possession in the second period. A frame where Michigan dominates offensively and ends up down three goals with emotions torpedoed deserves a closer look, as does the manner in which Michigan coughed up the puck.

[Hit THE JUMP to see if there are common threads in Michigan’s post shots and turnovers]

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Extra Point: Ohio State

Extra Point: Ohio State Comment Count

Adam Schnepp January 16th, 2019 at 1:30 PM

What Happened? Michigan ground out a 2-1 win against #4 Ohio State in Columbus Friday night, then fell 4-2 to the Buckeyes (one goal was an empty-netter, so meh) on Saturday.

*Blank stare* Okay, yeah, context. Michigan beat Notre Dame in an outdoor game at Notre Dame Stadium January 5th for what appeared to be a win that could propel them to a second half akin to last season’s, then looked like a completely disinterested team during a rare Tuesday night game against Merrimack (the team, not the boat). Friday night’s win again left some hope for a second-half run, then Saturday night’s game… actually, Michigan didn’t look that bad Saturday night, either. There’s hope yet.

Things don’t look great from a Pairwise perspective, though. A cursory glance at the comparisons chart doesn’t reveal one big thing Michigan could do to make a move. They only have 11 games remaining and have to come as close to running the table as possible to steal some comparison points back. That would help, at least as long as the general volatility of the conference continues unabated; the top two teams, Ohio State and Minnesota, are 6-3-3 in conference play and third-place Michigan is 4-5-4. Beating Penn State in their next series (this weekend is a bye) would be a nice start, as Michigan is currently tied for the head-to-head comparison point. (If you’re looking for a Pairwise explainer, USCHO has a good one here.)

So this is another one of those years where Michigan has to win the conference tournament to earn a bid and gets matched up with Penn State, isn’t it? Sort of looks that way.

Anything to take from last weekend that might give us insight into what could happen during the stretch run? Seems like the kind of thing we should put after THE JUMP, no?

[Hit THE JUMP for weekend takeaways that might give insight into the stretch run]

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Extra Point: Hockey At The Break, Part 4

Extra Point: Hockey At The Break, Part 4 Comment Count

Adam Schnepp December 28th, 2018 at 9:58 AM

Earlier this season I was sitting in the hockey offices at Yost waiting to do an interview with a player when I heard Mel Pearson's voice from around the corner. He was sitting down with the excellent beat writers from The Michigan Daily, and the one question I could hear was about goaltending.

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Extra Point: Hockey At The Break, Part 3

Extra Point: Hockey At The Break, Part 3 Comment Count

Adam Schnepp December 24th, 2018 at 12:00 PM

Previously: Part 1; Part 2

After looking at Michigan’s even-strength scoring last week, I’m now convinced that the simplest explanation for why they sit a shade under .500 and fourth in Big Ten points isn’t so much an anemic 5v5 offense as a 5v5 defense that has allowed more goals than most predicted considering the roster composition, namely the experienced corps of defensemen. Quinn Hughes is an elite talent offensively, but his defensive game is often overlooked due to his size. His quickness and edge work allow him to make up for that as well as the plurality of risks he takes activating offensively. Joseph Cecconi is a steadying force and a great first-pairing defenseman and partner for Hughes; he’s assignment sound and intelligent with the puck. Nick Boka, a senior, is cut from the same cloth as Cecconi and a good partner for freshman Nick Blankenburg, who’s dynamic and should develop into a puck-moving defenseman once he gets a better handle on the position (he played forward in high school). Then there’s the Luke Martin-Griffin Luce pairing, two guys with over 75 games of collegiate experience each. A defense, though, is about more than just the defensemen you can ice; the forwards have to pull their weight as well.

Michigan outshot opponents 930-722 at even strength through 17 games, which is along the lines of what you’d expect given the possession-dominant system they play. But whereas they’ve scored 34 even-strength goals, opponents have netted 44. The goal-scoring disparity is perhaps best illustrated when we switch to percentages: Michigan is scoring on 3.7% of all even-strength shot attempts, while opponents are scoring on 6.1% of their even-strength shot attempts.

The shot data that MGoHockey beat writer David Nasternak has been keeping is down a few games (no shot charts were available for the LSSU series, one Wisconsin game, and one Michigan State game), but it’s not far off the aggregate data; ours has opponents scoring on 5.8% of shot attempts. Our data is broken down by zone, and the zone with the most activity happens to be the one right in front of the goaltender.Shot chart.png Across 13 games, 27.1% of all shot attempts have come from what we’ve termed zone 1; draw a line between the faceoff dots and then at a 45-degree angle to the goalpost and that’s the area where most of the shot activity allowed by Michigan is occurring. The second-most active region is a small rectangle just above zone 1 formed by drawing a line up from the faceoff dots to the top of the faceoff circle and across, where 16.6% of shot attempts took place. Excluding zone 8 because nobody’s Gretzky and the numbers bear that out (0.3% of all attempts, both saved), the least dangerous zones on the ice are the ones that are the furthest from the goaltender. Michigan’s allowing 35.3% of all attempts from those three zones combined. Of that subset, three of 202 attempts found the back of the net (1.5%). Compare that with just zone 1, where 25 of 155 attempts beat the goaltender (16.1%). That follows logic, but it doesn’t help win the proverbial race to three goals.

[After THE JUMP: Systems issue or something else?]

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Extra Point: Hockey At The Break, Part 2

Extra Point: Hockey At The Break, Part 2 Comment Count

Adam Schnepp December 21st, 2018 at 2:00 PM

There won’t be any conference points on the line when the hockey team takes the ice again in a week and a half, but we will be able to gauge whether any of the issues that emerged in the first half of the season have been smoothed out over the three-week break. The quick version of where the team currently stands, from the top of last week’s post:

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Extra Point: Hockey At The Break, Part 1

Extra Point: Hockey At The Break, Part 1 Comment Count

Adam Schnepp December 14th, 2018 at 10:00 AM

Welcome to the first in a three-part series intended to take a closer look at the six most important topics of the hockey season thus far. In case your attention and time were siphoned by football and basketball, this year’s hockey team is in a similar place to last year’s at the same point. That squad limped into the GLI at 7-7-2, then lost in the first round of that tournament to Bowling Green. I remember thinking after that game that the season was more or less over, so of course they went on a Frozen Four run.

This year’s team has a fairly similar record (6-7-4) and has taken a step forward in its execution of Mel Pearson’s possession-oriented system. Though they’ve been adept at hanging onto the puck and generating attempts they haven’t been able to turn those attempts into high-quality scoring chances, and the roster composition is such that the list of candidates for a second-half breakout isn’t as long as it was last season. This team seems to be a more fully formed one, for better and worse. They are one of the nation’s best teams at generating shots at even strength and on the power play, and the first unit power play has to be one of the best puck moving squads in the nation. Michigan’s desperately needed them to be that, too, as they can’t find a way to score five-on-five despite a bevy of shot attempts. Just how good is Michigan’s power play, and what’s going on at even strength? We’ll use some of the shot-tracking data David’s been diligently inputting after the break.

[After THE JUMP: Quantifying the difference one guy makes]

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