Through the Michigan hockey team’s first six games, its lines remained nearly unchanged. The only alterations were injury replacements and rotations in and out of the lineup among its lesser skaters.

But after being swept by Notre Dame a week ago in a series in which the Wolverines scored just three goals in two games — none of which came on the power play in three opportunities — and failed to generate any momentum in the offensive zone, Michigan coach Mel Pearson made some significant adjustments entering his team’s series against Penn State.

Senior forward Jack Becker — who played on the Wolverines’ second power play unit — came out of the lineup, allowing for tweaks to both units. While these tweaks were small, they paid dividends. Michigan generated two goals on five power plays against the Nittany Lions.

“We just decided because we changed the lines up a little bit to change units,” Pearson said. “They weren’t drastic. … But I thought they played well. I thought our power play was really good.”

With Becker as a healthy scratch, junior forward Jimmy Lambert shifted to his spot both at even strength and on the power play, allowing senior forward Michael Pastujov to replace Lambert on the top unit.

Pastujov made an immediate impact on the man advantage for the Wolverines. In the second period of their 3-1 win against Penn State on Wednesday, he scored an impressive goal directly in front of the net, faking out the goaltender and putting the puck in an open net. The goal ended up being the deciding tally for Michigan.

“He knows what to do around the net,” Pearson said. “He’s got some offensive instincts that he knows where to go.”

The addition of Pastujov added another dimension to the Wolverines’ top power play unit that at times has seemed predictable. Freshman forward Brendan Brisson was the focal point, with the goal of every power play to get him the puck for one-timers. While Brisson is dangerous from the right circle, he only has one goal on the man advantage this season, a result of opposing teams anticipating his shots.

But with Pastujov on that unit, Michigan often worked the puck into the slot and Pastujov generated multiple dangerous chances in addition to his goal. Against the Fighting Irish, Pearson thought the Wolverines played on the perimeter too much on the power play, oftentimes trying to force feed the puck to Brisson. With the shake-up to the top unit, Pearson effectively found a way to solve this.

And while it didn’t come against the Nittany Lions, if Pastujov continues to thrive near the net, Michigan should be able to get more open looks for Brisson.

For the time being, though, that will have to wait. Five Wolverines are leaving for World Juniors in advance of their two games against Minnesota, including Brisson and three other players on the top unit — sophomore forward Johnny Beecher, sophomore defenseman Cam York and freshman forward Thomas Bordeleau. With makeshift lines for the series, Michigan may struggle on the power play.

“You’re going to see two different (units) this weekend, so get used to it,” Pearson said. “I’m gonna throw it in the blender and mash it up too. So you’re gonna kind of see a little bit of everything.”

While playing without nearly its entire top unit will be less than ideal, the Wolverines may have found a power play weapon in Pastujov that could be key to their success on the man advantage for the rest of the season.

 

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