With the immense amount of offensive talent that the Michigan hockey team has on its roster, power play success is expected. It’s just too difficult for an opposing team to consistently defend two equally talented units full of high NHL draft picks for an entire two-minute penalty.
So far this season, the Wolverines have not disappointed on the man advantage. Entering Saturday’s game against Ohio State, Michigan ranked ninth in the country in power play percentage, converting on just over a fourth of their chances. But over the Wolverines’ last two games, they had failed to find the back of the net on any of their six power plays.
In a Jan. 9 loss to Michigan State, Michigan’s power play looked completely out of sorts, often failing to even enter the offensive zone cleanly. The Wolverines failed to register a shot on goal on two of their four chances in the game.
“We just stayed on the perimeter,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said after the game. “We didn’t establish a point shot, so they were just content with leaving us on the perimeter and everything was just condensed there. There (were) really no passing lanes because of how low we were, and once you don’t establish a point shot, they don’t respect that and they can just pack it in.”
The Wolverines’ power play looked better in Friday’s win over the Buckeyes, generating multiple dangerous chances and sustaining offensive zone pressure, but they still couldn’t score.
On Saturday, however, those improvements led to results, as Michigan tallied goals on two of its four power plays in a 5-0 win. It was freshman defenseman Owen Power who broke through for the Wolverines midway through the first period, firing a one-timer past Ohio State goaltender Tommy Nappier. Senior forward Michael Pastujov added a power-play goal of his own in the second period when he deflected in a slap shot from sophomore defenseman Cam York.
“I think we’ve had good chances off of it, just the puck’s not been going in the net,” Power said. “So I think just getting our shots through from up top was a big part of the power play clicking tonight.”
Just as Pearson identified after the Jan. 9 loss, getting open shots from the point would be key to Michigan’s power play efficacy. It was no coincidence that the Wolverines’ two goals on the man advantage were direct results of one-timers at the top of the zone.
Following the struggles of the two games prior, Pearson and associate head coach Bill Muckalt worked to simplify the power play. Rather than force the puck into the slot, Pearson and Muckalt emphasized getting the puck to the point to force the Buckeyes’ penalty killers to spread out. Open space in front of the net would result, allowing shots in close and deflections — like Pastujov’s goal.
“Just getting a point shot in traffic, that’s really how we got those power play goals,” Pearson said. “We moved the puck well and then we got point shots through in traffic at the net.”
For Michigan, it was never a question of not having enough skill on its power play units. Pearson joked after a Jan. 8 win that the Wolverines could have three power play units if they wanted to. Rather, it was finding ways to provide those players with easier scoring opportunities.
Saturday, they did just that, and in doing so extended a one-goal lead to three, directing Michigan to its first series sweep since November.
“Those are important goals, and when teams take penalties we have to make sure our power play is operating,” Pearson said.