With one quick look up the ice, Cam York knew his teammate had a chance to make a game-tying play.
The freshman defenseman saw sophomore forward Jimmy Lambert streaking through the neutral zone and fired a stretch pass from blueline to blueline, right to the tape on Lambert’s stick. Lambert had a step on defenseman Jerad Rosburg, and freshman forward Nick Granowicz was just behind Lambert coming down the right side of the ice.
Lambert had a split second to decide whether to shoot the puck himself or pass across to Granowicz on the backdoor. That split second grew into a full second, then two. The hesitation gave Rosburg a chance to sprawl across the ice to block the shot he thought was coming — but it never came.
As he searched for the right decision, Lambert overhandled the puck and lost control of it. A brief moment of lost control led to a neutralized scoring chance. Instantly, Michigan’s chance to tie the game was gone.
“He was trying to rush and then whether to shoot or pass, I think he was in between and he just lost control of it,” said Michigan coach Mel Pearson on Monday. “That sort of sums up not only how the weekend went but how our season is going right now. We get a great play, great stretch pass coming in and then you get overthinking and you overhandle it and the next thing you know, you’re losing the puck.”
It wasn’t the first time in the Wolverines’ seven-game winless skid that Lambert has missed on a Grade-A scoring chance.
On Nov. 8 against Minnesota, freshman forward Johnny Beecher sent a pass to a wide-open Lambert on the doorstep of the net. Lambert fanned on his attempt at a shot before tumbling onto the ice, his chance at a game-winning goal gone.
“Good opportunity coming down the slot, just whiffs on it,” Pearson said after that game. “He had three or four (whiffs). Once you’re not scoring and you’re a forward, you really start to press. … It can get in your head, and we’ve got to get somebody in here to calm these guys and have them relax and not worry about that, because it’ll come.”
For Lambert, so far, it hasn’t.
He has been held without a point since Oct. 19 and has only one goal and one assist all season.
“I don’t really care, honestly,” Lambert said. “I’ve been getting chances every night, so — a lot of people in my life have always told me that if you’re not getting chances, then it’s time to be worried. But I’ve been getting chances every night, so sooner or later, it’s going to go in.”
And while Lambert’s offensive slump stands out after he led all freshmen in points last year with four goals and nine assists, his difficulties are only one example of a problem that’s spread throughout the locker room for Michigan. In the Wolverines’ seven-game skid, they’ve scored two or more goals in a game just twice and have been shut out once.
“I think we’re so uptight right now,” Pearson said. “Just relax and be the player you are and just simplify it. We are overhandling the puck. The more you handle it, the more opportunity you have to lose it or to miscue with it. Just keep it simple.”
No one around the program seems overly concerned about the lack of offensive output. The common refrain is that Michigan is getting chances and working hard, and eventually the Wolverines’ luck will turn and pucks will go in the net.
But through 12 games, Michigan ranks 43rd of 60 teams in the nation with 23 total goals and 51st in goals per game at 1.92. The Wolverines are dead last in the Big Ten standings with only one point of the 18 possible.
If Michigan is going to turn this around, players like Lambert will need to step up and become consistent contributors.
But as Lambert has shown lately, getting opportunities isn’t enough. Games aren’t decided by shot differential, they’re decided by goals scored — and the Wolverines have demonstrated an inability to put the puck in the net.
And there’s no prize at the end of the season for the team with the most opportunities.