EAST LANSING — Kris Mayotte turned to Mel Pearson on the bench, and with a grim expression on his face, the assistant coach — in charge of goaltending — shouted one word, or rather, one name.
Pearson had presumed Mayotte wanted to discuss the goal Strauss Mann had just allowed, his third of the night. But when a second shout of Hayden Lavigne’s name came, without another thought, Pearson cued the switch of goaltenders — a “no-brainer” he later called the decision.
Pulling a goaltender is indicative of only one thing. A team is struggling to stop shots, and that a change is needed. And for the Michigan hockey team, that meant that its recent struggles to stop pucks against Michigan State had continued onto Saturday’s matchup that resulted in a 3-0 loss — leading the team to turn to Lavigne.
“You’re just trying to change the tempo of the game a little bit,” Pearson said.
The decision came too late, though. The switch didn’t remove the fact that the Wolverines had dug themselves into a three-goal hole. Or that any offensive pushes resulted in a glaring zero on Michigan’s side of the scoreboard. The goaltender change was just a change of pace, a gamble to spark energy amongst the deflated Wolverines.
“We’re just not getting many breaks,” Pearson said. “You have to make your breaks”
The despair built from the three goals that were allowed early. A tipped shot in front of the crease in the first period is a difficult task to ask anyone to save. Add in two screens, and the task was impossible for Mann.
But the blame for the second and third goals, however, laid largely on Mann’s shoulders. A shot from Austin Kamar off a faceoff win snuck between Mann’s glove and leg pad, and diminished any momentum the Wolverines had built from their relentless second-period attacks. And a third goal, minutes later from Tommy Apap after a persistent crease attack — a top-shelf shot on a rebound after three saves — sent Michigan into a state of dismay.
It wasn’t just the relative ease that Michigan State scored with, it was the difficulty that came with every high-danger scoring chance the Wolverines produced. In the second period, sophomore forward Jimmy Lambert conducted a three-on-one breakaway that fizzled out without a single shot on goal.
“You see it on the bench, when you get a three-on-one like Jimmy had and we don’t even get a shot, you can just see it on the bench, like, ‘What do we have to do?’ ” Pearson said. “And it gets frustrating, and they’re all frustrated right now.”
Sensing the frustration, the switch was called, and a timeout, too, as insurance.
The message in the 60 seconds was clear. Stay with it. Keep playing hard. There was plenty of time left in the game.
The revitalized efforts didn’t procure any goals, but opportunities came, which couldn’t be said about much of the first period, and the latter half of the second. And in all three periods, the lack of opportunities on the power play further doomed Michigan.
Converting 0-of-5 power plays, the man-advantage proved to be a non-factor when its inherent purpose is to provide teams with an increased chance to score.
“We have two opportunities in the first period,” Pearson said. “And we have the chance to do some things and we’re terrible there, we’re absolutely terrible there.
“… You have guys who aren’t finishing and really struggling offensively, they go hand and hand, the power play and (even-strength scoring).”
And those problems are not things a simple goaltender change can fix.