It was the difference between the Wolverines tallying a crucial goal against a tough Penn State squad and coming up empty once again.
The production from the top line of Lockwood, Jake Slaker and Alex Kile has cooled considerably since its scorching start to the season. It hasn’t tallied a point since Michigan’s 4-0 win over then-No. 4 Boston University on Nov. 11, going scoreless in the five games since — over which the team’s record is an ugly 1-4.
While the goals and assists have yet to materialize, the first line remains confident in its abilities. Lockwood attributes the cold streak to bad puck luck — like on that near-goal against Penn State.
“I feel like I’m still getting good opportunities,” Lockwood said. “The only time you need to start worrying is when you’re not getting those opportunities, but I think they’re there, and I think I just haven’t been getting the bounces I wanted.”
Added Michigan coach Red Berenson: “As long as you’re getting chances and you’re playing hard and you’re playing the right way, then sooner or later it’ll go in.
“Part of it is confidence, part of it is execution, part of it is work ethic and part of it is just staying with the game plan and being patient.”
Despite the slump, Lockwood and Slaker still have the first and second-most points on the team, respectively, while Kile has the seventh-most — a sign of just how important their offensive performances are for Michigan. The Wolverines average just 2.50 goals per game on the season, a number that dips to a paltry 1.80 per game over the past five games.
For Lockwood, Slaker and Kile, there’s no alternative to hoping their luck will change but to put their heads down and to continue to work on being two-way forwards.
Berenson subscribes to the theory that the foundation of a good offense is a stalwart defense, one that constantly forces turnovers by the opponent. After all, you can only play offense when you possess the puck, and Michigan has the nation’s second-worst Corsi — which is a measure of possession through shots tallied versus shots given up.
“We’re just telling them they have to play hard, they have to play the right way and they’ve got to play good defense,” Berenson said. “If we play good defensively, then the offense will come. … If you preach offense, you’re not going to get it. If you preach defense, you’ll get offense.”
Kile, a seasoned veteran and captain, has dealt with numerous slumps before. In his mind, winning is the best solution to breaking out of a slump. The only problem is that the chances of Michigan winning appear to be correlated to how well its first line plays. But while Michigan needs its first line to start scoring again, Berenson has tried not to put the “weight of the world” on their shoulders.
“They were scoring easy at the start of the year and now it’s a little harder,” Berenson said. “And it’s not just about scoring, but for those guys, you expect they’re going to contribute offensively.
“They know they haven’t scored, but they’re doing everything in practice to get into good habits so when their chance comes in a game, they’ll bury it.”