Mel Pearson wanted more from Jimmy Lambert.
After the senior forward went 13 games without a point — producing the lowest offensive numbers of his career — the Michigan coach made his alternate captain a healthy scratch for Friday’s game against Penn State. The next night, he gave Lambert a chance to answer the challenge and put him back in the lineup.
And Lambert responded.
“He gave us some energy, played physical, played really good with the puck,” Pearson said. “… He gave us a little bit of everything and that’s what you expect of a senior.”
But Lambert wasn’t the only forward muddling through a slump. The fourth-ranked Wolverines have struggled to find secondary scoring since the New Year. And with its top line destined for the Olympics come February, Michigan desperately needs its veterans to provide secondary offense.
In its last four games, just six of 15 goals have come outside of Michigan’s top line — and two of those were empty netters. Offensive production consistently stems from a combination of sophomore forwards Brendan Brisson, Matty Beniers and Kent Johnson.
When those top players can’t find the scoreboard, though, the Wolverines find themselves up a proverbial creek. Penn State denied them a goal for almost four straight periods this weekend before Beniers’ second-period marker on Saturday.
In that span, the Nittany Lions outscored Michigan, 5-1.
Some semblance of a solution came, though, when the second line took the ice. Sophomore forward Thomas Bordeleau and freshman forwards Mackie Samoskevich and Dylan Duke combined their elusiveness and playmaking to slip past Penn State.
But it’s likely that a combination of that line takes top minutes when the Wolverines’ best scorers head to Beijing. Two goals over a weekend won’t cut it against opponents like Ohio State and Notre Dame, teams Michigan has amassed a 1-3 record against this season while being outscored 16-12. They’re going to need other players to chip in.
Veteran depth can shepherd the Wolverines toward victories. Fifth year senior forward Mike Pastujov’s eight goals puts him on a career-high pace. Senior defenseman Nick Blankenburg’s nine goals have come in clutch moments all season. Putting veterans like that pair in the right situations can yield the production that Michigan needs.
“Garrett Van Wyhe, Nolan Moyle, we’re gonna get chances,” Pearson said of his senior forwards. “We just need them to finish and bear down around the net more.”
But the Wolverines can’t simply decide to score. Opponents’ mistakes often dictate their offensive fortunes. And right now, many shooters are flat broke.
Junior forward Johnny Beecher’s only points in the last 14 games are twin empty netters against Massachusetts. The fourth line hasn’t scored at even strength since facing Ohio State seven games ago. Graduate forward Luke Morgan is in the middle of a 13-game goal-scoring rut.
“Sometimes the puck just doesn’t go in for you,” Beniers said. “I think I went through that a little bit in the beginning of the year … They’re playing hard, and you know what, if they’re not scoring, they’re still giving the team momentum.”
Michigan’s secondary scoring has reached dire straits over the past month, but there’s still time to reset its course. If veteran depth players create even half the offensive chances that the top line has, the Wolverines’ secondary scoring will give them a chance in most games.
And with its top four players Beijing bound, Michigan will have a huge hole in its roster. It needs depth players to create offense in their absence.
The veterans need to give them that edge.