One game past the halfway point of this season, it’s no secret that the Michigan hockey team’s year hasn’t gone to plan. At 6-10-2 overall and 2-7-1 in the Big Ten, the Wolverines are nowhere close to what they expected of themselves entering the season.
In the first half, Michigan suffered through a seven-game winless streak and only swept its opponent once — Oct. 18-19 over Lake Superior State, which currently sits at 5-14-1. The Wolverines were swept on the road at Ohio State and in a home-and-home against Michigan State.
In short, it hasn’t been pretty. The Daily breaks down the good, the bad and the ugly halfway through the year:
Sophomore goaltender Strauss Mann has been a clear bright spot for the Wolverines. A year after Michigan finished 59th of 60 teams in save percentage at .887, Mann is 12th in the nation with a save percentage of .931 and allows just 2.06 goals per game, good for 14th out of 71 goaltenders.
Michigan has given up the seventh-most shot attempts in the country this year, so the Wolverines have had to rely on Mann as a backstop — sometimes much more than Michigan coach Mel Pearson would like.
Regardless, Mann’s performance has been impressive and sorely needed after the debacle that was Michigan’s goaltending last season.
“I love the guy,” said freshman defenseman Cam York on Friday. “Nothing seems to faze him. He just stands on his head every game. We need him badly. When he plays really well, he gives us a chance to win every game.”
In front of Mann, the Wolverines have been sound defensively. They give up 2.17 goals per game on average, good for 11th in the nation.
Last weekend, Michigan allowed just two goals at even strength — and just four total in the series — to Penn State, which has the highest-powered offense in the country at 4.29 goals per game. Despite giving up quite a few shot attempts, the Wolverines and Mann have kept things together on the back end and not given up many goals.
Michigan has given up more than three goals in a game just twice on the year and has shut out its opponents twice.
“I like this team,” Pearson said Saturday after a series split against Penn State. “I like our goaltending. I like our team defense against maybe the best offensive team in the country.”
The Wolverines scored a power-play goal in the first period at Ohio State on Nov. 1. Three weeks later, Michigan scored a power-play goal at New Hampshire. In between those two tallies, the Wolverines went 0-for-12 with a man advantage.
As it turns out, Michigan’s 3-of-5 performance on the power play in its exhibition game Oct. 6 was a bit of an outlier. Things have been looking a bit better of late, but the Wolverines’ power play is still 42nd in the country at just 16.2 percent.
Pearson and associate head coach Bill Muckalt, who runs the power play, have made repeated changes to both units because of injuries and a desire to switch up what isn’t working, and the result of that has been two power-play units that are still struggling to find a rhythm.
Last year, the Wolverines finished 44th in the nation at 15.6 percent, and that was part of why Pearson had Muckalt take over the power-play duties this season. But so far, things haven’t improved all that much.
You knew this was coming. The ugliest part of this team is, without question, the offense.
The Wolverines average 2.17 goals per game, 49th in the country. Of the teams that have scored fewer goals than Michigan’s 39, none have played as many games as the Wolverines have. Michigan scores on 6.7 percent of its shots — third-to-last in the nation.
Freshman forward Johnny Beecher leads the team with nine points from a team-best five goals and four assists. York is tied for second with senior forward Jake Slaker at eight points, and then three skaters have seven points apiece and four have six.
In contrast, Penn State’s top producers have 23, 21 and 20 points, respectively. A lack of offensive output is clearly hindering this team, and it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what’s causing it.
Michigan is fourth in the country in shots on net with 584 and ranks third in total shot attempts with 1,078. Its Corsi-for percentage — a measure of how many shot attempts a team generates compared to the number it allows — is 51.2 percent, which is just above average and means the Wolverines generally outshoot their opponents.
Pearson and his players have frequently commented on Michigan not getting bounces this season, and at times, it’s sounded like an excuse for a team that can’t score. But with such a high shot total and such a low shooting percentage, there may be some truth to it.
College Hockey News tracks Corsi-for percentage and Twitter user Recovering Ops publishes a chart comparing Corsi-for percentage and PDO — which is essentially a measure of luck — each week. To calculate PDO, a team’s shooting percentage is added to its save percentage. Average is considered to be 100 percent, and Michigan is just below that mark right now while being above average in Corsi-for percentage.
The numbers suggest the Wolverines have been a little bit unlucky, but probably not unlucky enough to account for their anemic offensive numbers. And Michigan has also battled the injury bug this year, with Beecher, York, Slaker and senior forward Will Lockwood all missing multiple games.
But this team is pretty deep at forward, and at the beginning of the year, Pearson expressed excitement about the offense. Senior forward Nick Pastujov said Michigan was going to be able to score at a high rate with all four lines.
That clearly hasn’t happened. Instead, it’s been far, far uglier.