After Michigan’s loss to Michigan Tech last Tuesday, coach Mel Pearson — as he always does — went back to look at the tape from the game. This time, he noticed something he thought may have been the key factor in his team’s 4-2 loss to the Huskies.
The Wolverines had 37 shots on goal, including 20 in the first period, but only had traffic in front of Michigan Tech goaltender Matt Jurusik on two of those 37 shots.
“We watched a lot of hockey over the weekend, NHL (and) college games,” Pearson said Monday. “When you start breaking down goals and how they’re going in, usually there’s a lot of traffic. … We need to get traffic.”
It’s no secret that offense has been one of the biggest issues for Michigan this season, and its anemic average of 2.25 goals per game ranks 48th of 60 teams in the country. When there aren’t bodies in front of the net, the opposing goaltender has more time to see the shots coming at him. And not having a skater on the doorstep eliminates any chance of a rebound opportunity after a save.
For the second half of the season, Pearson’s main focus for his team is increased attention to detail. So far, that’s entailed getting bodies in front of the net to take the goaltender’s eyes away and readying for rebound chances. In Monday’s practice, the majority of the drills were focused on exactly that.
“Attention to detail, even when you do little drills, someone getting in front of the goalie or constantly standing to the side of the net,” Pearson said. “It’s not fun to get hit with that puck, it hurts a little bit, but you’ve gotta get there. You’ve gotta pay that price.”
Outside of the focus on getting bodies to the net, Pearson wants to see the Wolverines put more emphasis on all aspects of the game. Whether that’s a small detail of the forecheck system or making sure to stay focused mentally late in games, it all counts.
“There’s certain things we do when we’re either down or tied that we do really well and then once we get the lead, we start trying to change those kinds of things in our game,” senior defenseman Luke Martin said. “I don’t know what it is, whether it’s mental or what the deal is.”
Michigan has 11 losses this season, but only three have come by more than one even-strength goal. In three games, the other team scored an empty-net goal late to win by a two-goal margin. On the flip side, the Wolverines have won only one game by a single goal — their six other wins have at least a two-goal margin.
When they can create separation, they can win. When it’s a close game, they frequently fall short. These things matter in must-win games.
“We’ve been really good for the most part and then a bad play or just a mental lapse has hurt us,” Pearson said. “I think the biggest thing is we just have to clean some things up and a little attention to detail. They’re not huge things. And then the other thing is just we have to get everybody on the same page.”
“… We’re just finding ways to lose games instead of win games, and we’re not far off, but winning can be a habit and losing can.”