MIAMI IS HOCKEYBEAR TIME
[If this seems like excessive Hockeybear, It's a scheduling quirk: he blows up OSU, Miami, and MSU.]
|WHAT||Miami at Michigan|
|WHERE||Yost Ice Arena|
|WHEN||7:35 PM Friday/Saturday|
|LINE||College hockey lines, junkie?|
|TV||Friday: FSD Plus
Saturday: CBS Sports
Record. 15-11-2, 11-9-2 CCHA. A preseason CCHA favorite, Miami has been a disappointment. Like Michigan they endured an awful stretch in the first half of the season. They were 2-6 out of the gate, splitting against Bemidji State and Colgate before being swept by Ferris State and Lake Superior.
While they have slowly recovered it's taking them longer to get back to the level expected of them than it has Michigan, and their final three conference series are doozies: Michigan, Notre Dame, and Ohio State. Throw in a no-win situation against Alabama-Huntsville (UAH is so bad wins against them actually hurt your RPI and are therefore excluded from calculations) and Miami is in a battle for its tournament life. They're currently 11th; any stumbles down the stretch will threaten their bid.
The good news for the Redhawks is that they are hot now, 6-2 in their last eight, all against the fierce pack of contenders in the CCHA.
As noted on Monday, this is a matchup of the top two teams in conference goal differential. Michigan's climbed to +13 in two fewer games, did it largely without Merrill, and has an easier closing stretch, so you would give them a slight advantage on paper, where all games should be played.
Previous meetings. The Redhawks had a slight advantage in a home series during Michigan's awful stretch, winning 2-1 on Friday before a 3-3 tie Saturday. Miami outshot Michigan 29-21 on Friday and 41-28 Saturday. Merrill, obviously, was not available.
Reilly Smith lights the lamp
Dangermen. There actually is one. This unusual for a very good and very defensively-minded CCHA. He is Dallas draftee Reilly Smith, who is averaging just over a PPG. His 19 goals are fourth nationally. As you might imagine, he's a sniper. The third goal in this LSSU-Miami game from a couple weeks ago is Smith popping the water bottle from just outside the crease:
Letting him shoot is a bad idea.
Austin Czarnik (yes that Czarnik) is his primary setup man with 7-16-23. Miami has a bit of depth behind those two—another three guys have eight goals and a fourth has six—but is just 29th nationally with 2.86 goals per game. Michigan is ninth (yes, yes, SLU and all that).
This would be a game to sic the checking line on Smith and company, but Michigan doesn't really have one.
Defense and goalie and whatnot. The Reichard/Knapp platoon continues into both goalies' senior years. Reichard has a slight advantage in starts and Knapp a large advantage in save percentage (.928 to .901) and GAA.
Knapp started both games against Western; the two split series against LSSU and Northern. It's getting towards put up or shut up time for the Redhawks, so I expect Knapp on Friday and, if things go well in net, Saturday.
As far as their defense goes, they don't get much offense out of them but senior Chris Wideman will plunge down from time to time. Their opener against NMU was reminiscent of the goal Moffie manufactured in Michigan's OT GLI win over MSU:
He's got 1-14-15 on the year and given the state of the Miami power play it's safe to assume a larger fraction of those goals are even strength that you might expect.
Special teams. Your power plays per game:
|PP For / G||4||3.9|
|PP Ag / G||5.1||4.1|
Miami's special teams have been poor. They end up shorthanded more frequently than their opponents and are struggling to score on the power play. They're even worse than Michigan (46th versus 43rd). In the CCHA they are converting at an under 10% rate. That's probably the most inexplicable stat of the season.
Their PK is pretty good (12th) and significantly better than Michigan's (26th). Merrill, etc.
Michigan Vs Those Guys
Even those shots out. While Merrill should help in this regard, Michigan is still giving up a ton of shots even after his return to the lineup. Maybe they're not all spectacular but asking Hunwick to keep up his blistering pace (.975 in the past four games!) is a bit much.
Match Pateryn with Smith. Pateryn is Michigan's best defenseman when the puck is on the other guys' sticks; his size, reach, and reliability should help cut down on opportunities for Smith to loose his deadly shot.
Go ahead and goon it up. Miami is undisciplined (last in the league in penalties taken) and their power play is awful. A few tweaks may get you an extra power play or two and they're not going to hurt you if the random number generator goes against you.
Hunwick: keep playing out of your mind. It would be nice, right? .975 will do just fine.
The Big Picture
CCHA baseball standings again:
|Ohio State||10||7||5||1||36||22||1 1/3|
|Notre Dame||10||7||3||0||33||20||1 1/3|
|Lake Superior||9||9||4||4||35||22||1 2/3|
|8||Michigan State||8||9||3||2||29||20||2 2/3|
This is a huge series because all series are huge in the tightly-packed CCHA. Michigan wants to finish fourth or better to guarantee themselves a home series and can put themselves in a good spot by getting anything better than a split this weekend. A split leaves them where they are.
As far as the Pairwise goes, I believe a 6-2 record down the stretch will see Michigan occupying a one seed when the conference playoffs roll around*. You'd hope BGSU would be a slam dunk, leaving them with the task of sweeping one of their other three series and splitting the other two to get there. Miami is the toughest opponent left; getting the sweep this weekend would be a huge step towards both a potential left-field CCHA title and that one seed. Easier said than done.
*[They would have to defend that by reaching the Joe and going at least 1-1 there. They'd be in a good spot, though.]
Hunwick’s no longer just a good story; he’s legitimately among the best netminders Michigan’s ever had – boasting the best save percentage and goals-against average in program history at this point. And as the Wolverines find themselves in an interesting psychological position – seventh place in the standings but just five points out of first – Hunwick finds himself with the opportunity to do more than inspire walk-ons everywhere, he’s got the chance to put this team on his back as they attempt to end a national title drought that’s fast approaching a decade and a half.