Some day soon — Dec. 29, to be exact, when the Michigan hockey team begins play in the Great Lakes Invitational — the Wolverines will have to run a power play without their catalyst.
Freshman defenseman Jacob Trouba, the only life source the man advantage currently has, will miss the holiday tournament as a shoo-in for the United States’ roster in the concurrent World Junior Championship in Ufa, Russia.
But against No. 7 Western Michigan, Trouba continued to shine brightest on the power play, notching an insurance goal at the 12:29 mark of the third period after the Wolverines had been clinging to a 1-0 lead. The goal, Trouba’s fifth of the season, was his fourth with an extra skater.
And though Trouba is constantly a threat to connect from the point as he did Saturday night as Michigan avoided what would have been a devastating sweep, the power-play unit continues to struggle mightily.
The tally from Trouba snapped an 0-for-33 streak of fruitless power plays, dating back to the Nov. 10 game in East Lansing when Michigan State easily dispatched Michigan, 7-2. Boo Nieves cradled a pass from — who else — Trouba, and scored before the frustrating string of missed opportunities began.
As the power-play chances came and went in the seven games in between Nieves’ and Trouba’s goals, coach Red Berenson mentioned the team began working on them more in practice, culminating this week with more special-teams drills than in previous weeks.
“I can tell you we’ve worked on it more than any other part of our game,” Berenson said Saturday. “We’ve seen little bits and pieces (of improvement), but finally the puck went in for us tonight. I can’t tell you we were any better tonight, but the puck went in. Sometimes that’s all it takes — getting shots at the net.
“We can practice all we want, but it’s not the same as a game. This was a good test for our power play.”
On Friday night, a miserable 4-1 loss to the Broncos, the Wolverines’ problem was even getting a shot off. Michigan had a total of five power plays in that game and mustered an abysmal four total shots with the man advantage.
During one particular power play in the first period, a 5-on-3 advantage no less, the Wolverines looked uncomfortable cycling the puck — so much, in fact, that an errant cross-ice pass created the best scoring opportunity.
The two-man advantage quickly turned into a 2-on-1 at the other end for the Broncos, led by defenseman Garrett Haar. Had Haar not clanged a shot off the post during a rare breakout opportunity, the Michigan power play would’ve gone from hanging goose eggs to producing offense for the other team.
“We’re trying to make cute passes and passing the puck through sticks and through bubble passes,” said senior forward Kevin Lynch after Friday’s game. “We need to get the pucks on net because we’re not getting enough shots.”
Saturday night, the man advantage happened to score on the lone shot it managed, thanks to Trouba’s decisiveness from the point. But when he’s absent representing his country the next time the Wolverines take the ice, there might be more frustrations for the power play — this time, without its leader.