They say diamonds are a girls best friend. But after last weekend against No. 6 Minnesota, diamonds — specifically the diamond formation on a penalty kill — could become a best friend of the No. 12 Michigan hockey team, too.
Following Friday’s matchup, graduate defenseman Marshall Warren attributed the strength of the penalty kill that went one-for-five on the weekend to one thing — the new diamond formation.
“We switched our (penalty kill) into a diamond,” Warren said on Friday. “Everyone is more predictable, so it made it easier for us.”
So far this season, the Wolverines’ penalty kill has been anything but predictable. Although emphasized constantly, taking penalties and the subsequent penalty kill has been one of Michigan’s biggest weak spots for years. This season, the Wolverines have conceded 13 of 34 goals to their opponents on the penalty kill and accumulated a whopping 62 penalties and 165 minutes in the penalty box. They have created adversity through penalties all season, forcing constant penalty kills that are often the driving factor in their losses.
However, in the series against the Golden Gophers, the penalty kill was the strongest it has looked this season, due in part to the new formation. Only one of the aforementioned 13 penalty kill goals came from this series despite Michigan receiving 17 minutes in penalties on the weekend.
On Friday, the Wolverines had just two penalties, three less than their average of 5.17 penalties per game. But the real test came for Michigan when junior forward Mark Estapa knocked a Minnesota player to the ground, leaving him bloody on the ice. Estapa received a five minute major and game misconduct, leaving his team to face a five minute penalty kill without him.
And during this penalty kill, the Wolverines flourished. Not only did they kill off the entire penalty without conceding a goal — a difficult feat on a major — but did so in a dominant manner. Under the diamond structure, each Michigan defenseman was placed strategically between specific passing lanes, making it easier to mitigate passes, clear the puck, and most importantly, block shots.
“We had a lot of blocked shots, so that’s huge,” junior forward Dylan Duke said. “(A) big focus this week was blocking shots, and a lot of guys had a lot of sacrifice on that five minute (penalty kill). So that was really encouraging to see and I think that can shift momentum in our favor in games.”
Diamonds are hard to cut through, and the Wolverines made that abundantly clear.
“We changed the structure,” Michigan coach Brandon Naurato said on Friday. “I don’t think the structure was the issue before, but we wanted to just take pride in blocking more shots.”
While Naurato doesn’t attribute penalty kill success to the new diamond formation, his players think the new structure brought Michigan more confidence in blocking and clearing pucks. And in the new formation, every defensemen had at least two blocks on the night. The Gophers maintained possession for the majority of the major, but the Wolverines’ pressure did not go unfelt. Pressure creates diamonds, but in this case, the diamond created pressure.
The penalty kill was so successful on Friday that Minnesota couldn’t manage any goals on its power play. Killing off a major is difficult, and for Michigan, going a game with only two penalties is an improvement. But the Wolverines did both of these on Friday, due to their new and powerful penalty kill strategy.
The five minute penalty kill was a test for Michigan, and it passed. Diamonds may be a girls best friend, but after this weekend, the Wolverines are pretty acquainted with them as well.