For many things in sports, timing is everything. In hockey, that includes the power play.
On Friday, the Michigan hockey team (5-4-0 overall, 1-1 Big Ten) converted on its first two power play opportunities. The two goals –– which came in the second period –– gave the Wolverines a 2-1 lead just after Notre Dame had struck earlier in the period. The pair of goals came less than four minutes apart and seized the game’s momentum from the Fighting Irish.
And on Saturday, Michigan picked up where it left off with a timely conversion on the power play. Notre Dame forward Graham Slaggert was called for hooking just 1:12 into the first period. On the ensuing power play, junior forward Will Lockwood gave his team the lead after he got his stick on a wrist shot from sophomore defenseman Quinn Hughes, redirecting the puck into the top right corner of the net and past goaltender Dylan St. Cyr.
It seemed as though the Wolverines would grab the momentum of the game for the second straight night after a timely power play goal. This was not the case as Notre Dame rattled off five straight goals by the time the middle of the second period came around.
But Michigan had an opportunity to cut into the deficit.
Fighting Irish forward Joe Wegwerth was called for hooking just over midway through the second period. A minute later, defenseman Andrew Peeke was whistled for cross-checking –– setting up a five-on-three opportunity for 58 seconds. Though they were able to get shots on goal during the two-man advantage, the Wolverines were unable to score.
“I thought tonight we moved the puck around pretty well on the five-on-three,” said senior defenseman Joseph Cecconi. “The goalie just made a few big saves, and if we can get maybe one in on that, the game changes.”
There was still plenty of hockey left to be played at that point. A goal on the power play would have cut the lead to three just halfway through regulation in a game that quickly got out of hand for Michigan. It provided a lifeline –– a chance at regaining momentum –– of which the Wolverines failed to take advantage.
Give credit to St. Cyr. The freshman came up with several big stops on the power play. But to be among the best in college hockey, Michigan needs to find a way to convert when it matters most.
“I thought we had some real good looks,” said Michigan coach Mel Pearson. “He made some real good saves. We had chances. We had chances to get back into this game, but you got to give credit, he played really well.”
After getting out to a big lead, Notre Dame was dug in on defense, making little effort to get into its offense and push the pace. Had the lead been cut down to three –– or even two with one more goal in the second period –– this strategy likely changes. The Fighting Irish would have had greater incentive to try to score, spreading their defense thin and providing more chances for the Wolverines.
Earlier in the season, Pearson expressed that although having a high conversion rate on the power play is important, what really matters is the timeliness of the conversions. On Friday, that timeliness was there, and the two goals seized the momentum for the game. But when Michigan most needed a power play goal on Saturday, that same timeliness was nowhere to be found.