Senior forward Garrett Van Wyhe carried the puck down the ice, a Wisconsin defenseman left in his trail. With the Wolverines one man down and Van Wyhe alone against the goaltender, he struck the puck on net.
Killing the penalty usually consists of playing conservatively and focusing everything on keeping the puck out of the net. But with Michigan’s impressive roster, it can be more than just playing defense.
In the Wolverine’s last series against Wisconsin, they faced six power plays and allowed zero goals. The Badgers couldn’t get past sophomore goaltender Erik Portillo in the first game, but claimed the victory in the second, with Michigan losing, 2-4.
It’s not only significant that the Wolverines had a perfect penalty kill in the series, but also that they were able to generate scoring opportunities while playing a man down. Most notably, Van Wyhe had multiple chances in the Friday night matchup. When freshman defenseman Luke Hughes tripped an opponent and entered the penalty box, Van Wyhe had two 1-on-1 chances with the Wisconsin goaltender. While one shot went wide and the other was saved, Michigan’s aggression in the penalty kill was the story of the second period.
“We’re certainly putting more pressure up ice at times and going when we can go,” Michigan associate head coach Bill Muckalt said. “Credit to our guys, we’ve been doing a good job with angling in and preventing entries.”
The penalty kill aggression isn’t by chance. It starts being solid defensively and stealing the momentum from the opposition. Whether it’s getting a few shots off on their goaltender or ending their power play with no goals conceded, the energy shifted in the Wolverine’s favor after each one. With opponents putting all five players in Michigan’s defensive zone, the ice is ripe for counterattack.
The Wolverines average 5.6 penalties per game, one more than their opponents’ 4.6 penalties. Wisconsin isn’t the only one of Michigan’s opponents who struggled to capitalize on the power play. Out of the Wolverine’s 37 penalties this season, the defense has only allowed seven goals. Having sophomore defenseman Owen Powers and senior defenseman Nick Blankenburg in the back only helps.
But seeing the opportunity for an odd-man rush is the game changer.
“For the most part, on the penalty kill, we’re trying to keep the puck out of our net,” senior defenseman Jack Summers said. “But again, if there’s a chance that we can take it, we’re going to.”
Van Wyhe, who has averaged just over three goals a season in his career, already has two on the year. As one of the most experienced players on the roster, he’s been someone Michigan can rely on. He’s not the most skillful on the puck, but his powerful skating and ability to get past the Badgers’ line last weekend showed how crucial he is to this team.
In the Wolverines’ matchup against Minnesota Duluth in the Ice Breaker Tournament, Van Wyhe found the puck in his defensive zone. In line with the Bulldogs’ defense, he skated past their line, went 1-on-1 with the goaltender, and buried it in the bottom corner of the net. With Michigan’s first short-handed goal of the season, Van Wyhe gave a preview of what was to come the rest of the season.
Especially since he isn’t always on the ice, teams don’t expect Van Wyhe to glide past them as easily as he does. Although he couldn’t finish against Wisconsin, he’s shown penalty kill goals are a part of his arsenal.
“Having guys like Garrett, who can fly and we can spring him for those chances catches teams off guard,” fifth year senior forward Michael Pastujov said. “It’s something we’re working more and more into our game now that our penalty kill is successful.”
The Wolverines are incredibly dangerous even strength. Now opponents can’t solely focus on scoring off the power play, but defending the odd man rush. Wisconsin was just the first victim.