Quinn Hughes carries the puck up ice against Minnesota
A defenseman who draws this much attention opens up ice for the rest of the offense [Marc-Gregor Campredon]

Extra Point: Where Does Hockey Go From Here? Comment Count

Adam Schnepp February 14th, 2019 at 11:59 AM

Tuesday’s loss to Notre Dame wasn’t the final nail in the coffin for Michigan’s tournament chances, but things aren’t super great when a college hockey site’s models have to be consulted to make sure the pre-comma clause isn’t mathematically impossible. Conference tournament games are treated like regular season games as far as Pairwise is concerned, and while that leaves a little room for Michigan to bolster its resume, we can get an idea how much that will matter (read: do they need to win the tournament outright) thanks to the excellent charts at College Hockey Ranked. Michigan has four remaining regular-season contests, and the most likely outcome (28.0%) derived from four straight wins is the #19 Pairwise spot. The top 16 teams get into the tournament; Michigan has a 3.6% chance of finishing the regular season #16, 0.7% chance of finishing #15, and 0.1% chance of finishing #14. In other words, it’s exceeding unlikely they’ll play their way into a position to be heartbroken by some other team that’s out of it winning their conference tournament and stealing a bid (and even that assumes Michigan wins some but not all of their conference tournament games.)

With just six points separating the teams in second (Michigan) and sixth (Michigan State) place in the conference standings and four conference games left to play, projecting Michigan’s Big Ten Tournament opponent is an exercise in futility. We do have four games from earlier this season that could help us in analyzing how Michigan might be able to go about sweeping Ohio State and Wisconsin, their next two opponents, so we’ll turn to those for insight. Sweeping two opponents consecutively will be a big task for a team that went over three months between sweeps, but we can look at a few smaller components of quality play that make it possible. It’s not entirely unlike when my ten-month-old is in his high chair and flings himself forward to grab something I definitely didn’t think he could reach on the table and I’m like, hey, that would have been fine if I ripped it into pieces but as it stands you shoving it into your mouth whole just makes me look like a shitty dad. I mean, it’s not entirely like that but it’s not entirely unlike that, either.

[Hit THE JUMP for GIFs and such]

The first age-appropriate bit we’ll rip off relates to the more difficult to palate of the two remaining series. Michigan squares off with Ohio State at home in eight days, with the extra time between games due to weird Tuesday night one-off games like this week’s loss to Notre Dame. Ohio State is currently ranked #3 in Pairwise, but Michigan managed to split a close series in Columbus the first time these teams met. The thing that immediately stands out when reviewing that series is that you have to hope Hayden Lavigne can shake off getting pulled in his most recent start, as he was one of the primary reasons Michigan was in both games last month. He started and played well in last Friday’s game against Michigan State, allowing maybe one goal that he should have had back of the three that went in. Strauss Mann got the start against MSU Saturday in an effort to shake Michigan out of its win-Friday-lose-Saturday funk, not because of how Lavigne played Friday. He played well in the face of some big defensive miscues.

And some big offensive miscues, too.

That may be the opposing offense and it may have absolutely nothing to do with the next two series, true, but I’ll be damned if that happens in a Michigan game and I don’t get to post it. Sorry, Jeremy.

Anyway, Lavigne started the game in South Bend Tuesday night and was pulled after allowing four goals in 40 minutes; one was a short-handed breakaway that was almost the mirror image of a goal Michigan got back later in the game, so meh. The power-play goal was a bit concerning, as it was a long shot that I thought Lavigne was able to see. Things got worse in the last quarter of the second period, as Lavigne allowed a goal five-hole on a shot from just across the blue line. Then Notre Dame was able to score on a shot fairly similar to one that went in for Michigan State last weekend.

I asked MGoHockeycast co-host and goaltender Anthony Ciatti about the two goals and he thought the one against State was Lavigne’s angle being off and the one against Notre Dame was on the defense.

Mann allowed a goal on a late power play Tuesday and was otherwise fine. I expect that Lavigne will get at least the Friday start against Ohio State based on how he fared against them last time; I doubt one weak goal erases what he’s done the back half of the season, but Mann can’t be ruled out because he’s made similarly excellent saves against similarly busted coverages, and he’s done so with little to no warm-up time. The defense is what it is at this point: two or three big breakdowns each game that force the goaltender to make incredible stops. I'm not sure which goaltender you want in net when those breakdowns happen; Mann has been great against them and is athletic enough to recover if he starts off his angle, but the GIFs in this Extra Point post from the last time Michigan and Ohio State played show Lavigne making the same kinds of saves--with one notable exception. At this point, I guess we’re talkin’ bout practice and who the staff feels most comfortable with. It’s an excellent time for Michigan to have a bye week and get an opportunity to take stock of where each unit is and what needs to happen to string together a [fire emoji] stretch run.

The other guy who had a great series against Ohio State the last time around is the one I see as the biggest key to Michigan’s fate: Quinn Hughes. There are no secrets with Hughes. He’s been scouted to the ends of the earth, and if you’re reading this I assume you’ve seen what he can do at even strength with his ability to start—and, in some cases, be—the rush. That came into play against Ohio State 5v5 as well as on the power play, and Hughes’ playmaking with the man advantage is what could be the key to the Wisconsin series.

Wisconsin took four penalties the first time the teams played and seven (!) in the rubber match. Michigan went 0-for-11 despite posting 12 shot attempts Friday and 25 Saturday. Wisconsin is ranked 59th out of 60 teams in penalty kill percentage at a cool 73.6. (Related aside: Ohio State’s 82.2% places their PK t-27th. Not great and they took three penalties in each of their two games against Michigan, but not the same blood-in-the-water type stuff Wisconsin’s facing.) I thought the second-unit power play did a nice job quickly swinging the puck around the ice and forcing the defense to move against Michigan State. The first-unit power play hasn’t been moving the puck with speed in the same way because it’s far more tailored to putting the puck on Hughes’ stick and allowing him to draw attention.

One thing that seems to separate Hughes from forwards that walk down the wall is that defenses aren’t patient with him. When he starts moving, so do they. Sometimes that movement isn't just a few strides, it's a tearful goodbye with mom and dad and a move across state lines.

Not the same amount of skating involved here but he pulls a guy up and grabs a second guy’s eyes, and he lets the puck go when he sees that DeRidder is adequately screened. Worst-case scenario is the puck in a swarm of bodies, and with Michigan routinely camping two guys out near the crease it's a shot intended to generate a second chance.

There are obvious issues putting so much on a power play that has collectively gone 1-for-22 over their last five games, and the first-unit power play can bog down at times. Hughes is an unconventional player and allowing him free reign to create on the wing up a man is somewhat unconventional as well, but it speaks to how the coaching staff allows their players to play to their strengths. Anthony mentioned in a recent conversation that he was impressed with how the staff is able to get the most out of each line in allowing each player to do what he does best within an overarching structure that places a premium on shot generation. The power play needs Hughes to be that shot generator, and the above clips show that it’s not a big reach to ask him to do exactly that.




February 14th, 2019 at 12:24 PM ^

Hughes stood up after the PSU game and said that he was PSU's best player. I respect that a lot. 

We're going to need a B1G playoff title to make the tournament. There is simply no other way to get in. Conference points actually make a difference now. 


February 14th, 2019 at 12:29 PM ^

Reminder that the top 16 in pairwise don't make the tournament.  The 6 conference champions make the tournament, plus the top 10 remaining teams in pairwise.  The #16 team, unless I am mistaken, has never made the tournament and often the #15 team doesn't make the tournament either.

The CHN pairwise probability matrix assures us that even if Michigan had beaten Notre Dame they still would need a conference tournament championship to receive an NCAA bid.  These give very different (and much more pessimistic) numbers than College Hockey Ranked, I think because CHN actually starts with a realistic assumption about the probable outcome of each game.


Adam Schnepp

February 14th, 2019 at 2:35 PM ^

Thanks, you stated that more clearly than I did. It's what I was trying to get at with the bit about how you can finish inside the top 16 and not make the tournament because of the auto-bid bump.

The CHN matrix is really interesting. What I was trying to figure out yesterday was, had they defeated Notre Dame, whether they could have played themselves into a position where sweeping the regular season plus winning the first two rounds of the conference tournament would get them high enough in Pairwise that they might get in if every other conference title was won by the team that would already get in (plus the Atlantic) and now that I'm typing that out in a single sentence, uh, yeah, conference tourney title.


February 18th, 2019 at 7:42 PM ^

This has been somewhat of a down year for many of the traditional NCAA men's hockey powerhouses.  Things will change between now and the end of the conference tournaments, but based on the current PairWise rankings, this would be the first time in 50 years when there's no Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota, Boston University, Boston College or Maine in the NCAA men’s hockey tournament.  LINK  The tournament field in 1969 when there were only four teams in the tournament was Denver, Harvard, Cornell and Michigan Tech.  


February 14th, 2019 at 12:53 PM ^

Tuesday's game was a total gut-punch. I was on such a high after FINALLY sweeping (and over sparty to boot). It lasted all of 2 days. 

Why do we have to play these Tuesday games?!?! God I hate the B1G (not as much as I used to but having 7 teams sucks). 




February 14th, 2019 at 1:17 PM ^

Why the Tuesday game?

The initial computer-generated Big Ten schedule had Michigan at Notre Dame on February 15 & 16 (this weekend) and Wisconsin at Notre Dame January 4 & 5.

But then Notre Dame wanted to host an outdoor game.  Not against Wisconsin, either--at least NBCSN wanted it against Michigan.  So they moved one Michigan-ND game to January 5.  Wisconsin had a bye on February 15-16, so they moved the Wisconsin series to that weekend, and Wisconsin scheduled a non-conference series for January 4-5.

That left one Michigan at Notre Dame game to be scheduled, and they made it this Tuesday because ND had a bye last weekend and now Michigan has a bye this weekend, so nobody's playing 5 games in 9 days.

TLDR?  It's because of that outdoor game.

Watching From Afar

February 14th, 2019 at 1:04 PM ^

The consistent inconsistency is maddening. Can't seem to buy a sweep but can come out and beat the OSU's and ND's of the current landscape.

It's not like they're barely winning games and following it up with a 3 or 4 goal loss (mostly). The variances in outcomes are usually within 2 goals (and given late game empty netters it's hard to say which 2 goal margins are better than others). I don't follow hockey recruiting a bunch so I don't know what's to come next year and the year after, but it's pretty obvious the only shot at the tournament this year is to win the conference tournament and otherwise get ready for next year.


February 14th, 2019 at 1:23 PM ^

I don't understand the angst over this season. Michigan had a surprisingly great season last year, lost significant talent, only had Hughes back as a notable player, and Mel came in knowing he had to rebuild.

This season is playing out the way it should.


February 14th, 2019 at 8:53 PM ^

You're right, but are you familiar with Michigan fans? The basketball team is 22-3 and in the top 10 and people freak out after a loss. Unless everything is perfect, we love to complain. Even if things are just fine to very good, we complain.

Also, in general people don't follow hockey closely enough to calibrate expectations. Pearson came in and went to a Frozen Four his first year, and boom that's the standard people think we should be meeting annually. The people who know (the hockey podcast guys, several posters here) have been saying that there likely isn't enough talent here now, nor in the near future, to be a top team yet. Hockey recruiting being what it is, it takes years to recover--much longer than basketball or even football--from a few poor classes. We are feeling it now. 

The Maizer

February 15th, 2019 at 9:07 AM ^

People expect to make the tournament every year because of the 20+ year stretch where we never missed it. Then the end of the Red era reset expectations and people were ready to give Mel time to rebuild. But then last season BAM, turns out Mel was the only change needed; we're awesome again now and never going to miss the tournament again. That's why the people not paying close attention are disappointed.

However, I think there's a reason to be disappointed even for those that are paying attention. Our defensive miscues are concerning and we've tied so often that just a bit less sloppiness could have had us with several more wins and a more legitimate shot at making the top 15. There's no reason to be freaking out, you're right; and I'm super optimistic for the future. But it's okay to be disappointed here.


February 16th, 2019 at 5:14 PM ^

College hockey is much different than it was in UM's glory days of the mid-90s and early 00s.  If great prospects come as 18 year olds, they stay 2 years max.  No more Brendan Morrison 4 year careers for mid to high NHLers.  Schools are having success recruiting lower level, but older, recruits.  You can have success with a bunch of 24 year olds playing 18 and 19 year olds.  The result of this is the scourge of all sports in my opinion, the dreaded parity.  Championships are much more random than they were, anyone in the tournament can win if they get on a hot streak or catch a couple breaks.  All to say, don't look for Michigan, or any team, to have the level of excellence that Michigan had from 1993 to 2005.  

As for this year, the team is mediocre - mediocre talent and mediocre effort.  It has been obvious since the home loss to a crappy Vermont team in October and was plain as day in the home loss to Merrimack in January.  It was embarrassing to be at Yost that night.  When you have mediocre talent and don't play hard consistently you end up mediocre which is what this team is.