Ohio State’s first power-play goal came from forward Tanner Laczynski, but the Michigan hockey team still had a two-goal lead. Not much, but enough to keep the crowd at Yost Ice Arena from panicking on Friday night.
Two goals from the Wolverines later, Michigan entered the third period sitting on a 5-1 lead. But the 12th-ranked Buckeyes still had 1:21 remaining of a second-period power play, and six seconds into the third, forward Nick Schilkey capitalized.
Within the next few seconds, they scored again, and later in the period once more to put the game within tying distance. Although it wasn’t enough to secure an impressive comeback and win the game, it was enough to scare the Wolverine fan base.
On Saturday, though, Ohio State managed to do exactly what it needed to, scraping past Michigan, 6-5.
Out of the Buckeyes’ 10 goals this past weekend, seven of them came during power plays. While Ohio State is notable for its power play — after the series, it’s ranked No. 1 in the Big Ten — Michigan’s penalty kill wasn’t shaping up into what it needed to be. In Saturday’s game, it could have made all the difference.
“I’m giving the other team’s power play their due,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “They’re a good power play, but they’re not that good. They’re not a 50 percent power play. We shouldn’t be giving up four goals on seven chances or three on six. That’s what we did over the weekend. That’s on us.”
Earlier in the season, Michigan was ranked 10th in the penalty kill. But after their recent performances, the Wolverines have dropped to the bottom of the Big Ten. The penalty kill almost cost Michigan the game on Friday — and it did on Saturday.
For the Wolverines, it isn’t just the penalty kill that’s coming up short. There are compounding issues that lead to such high-scoring games. The number of penalties Michigan took on Saturday was too many to give to a team with such an established power play.
“If our forecheck is doing well, right away that helps us out,” said freshman goaltender Hayden Lavigne. “If our forecheck isn’t doing that great but we’re shutting them down real quick when they get into the zone then once again, it’s fine. But it was kind of one of those things where we weren’t doing a good job forechecking the whole time, we didn’t really track back hard. We just kind of let them set up into their structure easily.”
The number of penalties and the execution of the penalty kill weren’t good signs for Michigan. Both factors contributed to the close nature of the weekend’s games despite arguably two of its best offensive games this season.
But the issues aren’t just stemming from the execution of the penalty kill, either.
“First and foremost, I think it starts with the faceoff,” said freshman forward Jake Slaker. “Including myself, I think the centermen haven’t been the best in the defensive zone in faceoffs during the penalty kill. That right away loses possession, and they get an easy start to the power play, so that’s definitely a frustrating thing I think we can improve on.
“It’s one thing leads to another. Guy taking a penalty, centerman loses the faceoff, the guys not executing on the ice. It definitely builds up.”
There’s no doubt the Wolverines stepped up their offensive game this past weekend against Ohio State. With junior forward Tony Calderone — who is leading in goals with 10 — and senior forward Alex Kile and junior forward Cutler Martin out of both games, the tables easily could have been turned.
But a win on Saturday could have resulted in Michigan’s first sweep of the season — something that won’t come anytime soon if the penalty kill doesn’t improve.