MADISON — For much of the early portion of this season, the No. 5 Michigan hockey team has lived and died by its power play. When the unit was scoring on more than a third of its chances, that formula worked — the Wolverines drew plenty of penalties and capitalized on the ensuing advantages.
But over the past four games, that rampant success has ground to an almost astounding halt. In that stretch, Michigan has given up more goals on the power play than it has scored, conceding one short-handed goal while failing to convert on 12 straight chances.
As the Wolverines’ power play floundered en route to an 0-for-4 line on just five shots in a 6-3 loss to Wisconsin on Friday, those recent woes proved costly once again.
“There’s times you score on the power play and you probably don’t deserve it,” Michigan coach Brandon Naurato said. “And there’s times where you’re a little snakebitten and you deserve a little more. … It’s on me to make some adjustments.”
But “snakebitten” or not, going 0-for-4 with a man advantage is a death knell. If the Wolverines’ had managed to score on two of those four chances – a jump from the Michigan’s second-in-the-country .294 conversion rate, but not a massive one — it creates a tie game prior to Wisconsin’s last-minute empty-netter.
Beyond the obvious failure to capitalize while up a player, a stalled power play swings momentum back towards the team that successfully kills it off. As Wisconsin went on a run of four unanswered goals, the Wolverines needed to do something to stop the Badgers from continuing to build momentum. Any single power play goal could have done that.
But by blundering on the power play time and time again, Michigan allowed Wisconsin to dictate the flow of the game.
“Our power play hasn’t been good,” freshman forward Rutger McGroarty said. “… We have one more player than them. We have to use that to our advantage. We’re just not attacking out there.”
If the Badgers had a top penalty kill unit, those concerns would be partially subdued. Maybe Wisconsin’s defensive prowess forced the Wolverines off their game, rather than Michigan struggling.
But the Badgers rank 38th in the nation and sixth in the Big Ten in penalty killing percentage, solidly below average. And when freshman forward T.J. Hughes misses sophomore forward Dylan Duke open in front of the net, or when freshman forward Adam Fantilli and sophomore forward Mackie Samoskevich can’t connect on a 2-on-1 and the puck skips away from Samoskevich’s stick, it’s clear that the Wolverines’ mistakes caused the lack of power play success.
And on one opportunity, Michigan barely even gave itself a chance. With a minute left on the power play in the second period, Duke took an interference penalty, slicing the Wolverines’ time on the advantage in half.
“We have to start converting on the power play, and we have to stay out of the box,” McGroarty said. “Penalties like that just kill momentum.”
As momentum rapidly swung away from Michigan, as it watched a 2-0 lead collapse into a 4-2 deficit and eventually a 6-3 loss, the Wolverines couldn’t afford to lose any more of the momentum than they already had.
And as Michigan struggled to find the back of the net for the final two periods, it needed its power play to come through. But by leaving four chances on the table, it couldn’t get the job done once again, continuing a worrisome trend.