Michigan hockey's 10-game progress report

BY HOCKEY BEAT WRITERS

Published November 11, 2008

Overall grade: B+

Offense: A-

The Michigan hockey team's offense has surprisingly been its strength. Sophomores Aaron Palushaj and Louie Caporusso have stepped it up this season along with the rest of the Wolverines to create two dynamic scoring lines. Caporusso leads the team with nine goals and has been boosted by the addition of Palushaj to his line two weeks ago.

While the Wolverines have scored timely goals, most recently this Saturday against Alaska, the offense has been nonexistent in key games. Twice this season against ranked teams, Northern Michigan and Boston University, Michigan didn’t score any meaningful goals. The Wolverines lost 7-2 to BU and were shutout in their first game against the Wildcats. Michigan will need to score in big games if it wants to make it deep into the postseason. Games against Miami, Michigan State and Notre Dame later this season will be key tests for the offense.

Defense: B

Entering the season, there was little doubt Michigan's defense would be one of its strongest and deepest units. But after two experienced blue-liners, senior Mark Mitera and junior Steve Kampfer, were lost for most of the year with injuries, the unit couldn't have looked more depleted. As a result, sophomores Scooter Vaughan and Tristin Llewellyn, who weren't even dressing for every game at this point last year, have started at times. The two have played well in the their new roles, and each has double-digit blocked shots.

Sophomore Chad Langlais has also kept up his strong play from last season, accumulating a plus-seven rating, second best on the team. And with freshman Brandon Burlon finally back from an ankle injury, some much-needed depth returned to the lineup. But the unit still has a lot of room for improvement. Overall, the Wolverines have done a solid job compensating for the loss of Mitera and Kampfer.

Special Teams: C-

Michigan's extra-man attack is starting to show improvement, scoring on five of its last 19 chances. The Wolverines are sixth in the CCHA with a 14.7-percent conversion rate. That number should gradually improve throughout the season, largely because Palushaj and Caporusso are playing like the coaching staff hoped they would. The two had combined for seven of Michigan's 10 power-play goals this season. Caporusso seems to be scoring from every angle and Palushaj has been routinely feeding teammates through traffic to create scoring chances.

One concern is the status of Michigan's penalty kill. Alaska entered last weekend with just three power-play goals in 52 chances. The Nanooks netted two more during Michigan's Saturday night win. The Wolverines' penalty kill has now surrendered 12 goals. Michigan has killed just 77.4-percent of its penalties, which is next-to-last in the CCHA. But the stat is a little deceiving because Boston scored five of those 12 power-play goals on Oct. 25.

Goaltending: B

The net was up for grabs heading into the season. Question marks followed senior Billy Sauer's meltdown against Notre Dame in last year's Frozen Four. Uncertainty surrounded sophomore Bryan Hogan, who played in just six games last year.

Ten games into this season, after five starts for each goalie, the questions remain. This time, it's not about who can handle the pressure — it's about who has the slight edge. With the exception of Michigan's blowout loss at BU, both goalies have proven they can keep the Wolverines in the game. Each boasts a save percentage of just more than .890.

On a series-by-series scale, the two netminders have performed pretty evenly. Each has made some highlight-reel-worthy saves. Michigan has given up 28 goals, some have been fluke goals, including weird bounces off skates, but Hogan and Sauer have allowed a worrisome amount of easy rebound goals.

Wins and losses depend on offensive production and smothering defense, too, but at the end of the day, Sauer is 2-3-0 and Hogan is 5-0.