MINNEAPOLIS — The last time Michigan played Minnesota, the Golden Gophers scored four of their six goals on the power play in the series split.
Forward Rem Pitlick scored two of those goals and assisted on a third. In the Big Ten Tournament this weekend, the Wolverines will pay close attention to Pitlick in their attempts to slow down Minnesota’s power play. The Golden Gophers convert at a 23.3-percent clip with a man-advantage, which ranks tenth in the nation.
“I think the biggest thing is just watching that backdoor to Pitlick,” said sophomore forward Dakota Raabe. “I think we’ve just gotta stay compact and then we see the pass going to him, just making sure we’re in that lane and blocking that shot.”
Slowing down Minnesota’s power play will be key for the Wolverines this weekend, and their penalty kill has been steadily improving in recent weeks.
“I think we did a good job against Ohio State,” said Michigan coach Mel Pearson. “Wisconsin, I think, we didn’t have to kill much. We did a decent job there. It’s gotten better over the course of last few weeks. Even against Michigan State, I thought we did a good job against that top group that they have. We’re making headway, which is good. This is the time of year you really need your special teams to perform well.”
Added Raabe: “I think just if we’re staying disciplined, we’ll be fine. I think once we are — god forbid, if we have a penalty or whatever, we’re on the penalty kill — we just gotta bear down and really kill it. I think we’ll be good.”
Since the last time the Wolverines played at Minnesota, Michigan has allowed six power play goals on 25 opportunities. The kill percentage of .76 isn’t great, but it’s evidence of improvement for the penalty-killing unit.
In practice this week, Michigan spent more time than usual working on the penalty kill. This weekend’s series could be the end of the Wolverines’ season and stopping Minnesota with the man advantage is a top priority.
“We spent more time on it this week than we ever have,” Pearson said. “Because they’re so successful at it, that’s gonna be a key part of the game. … They get all their momentum from their power play.”
And despite all that work on the penalty kill, the top priority is not going to the penalty box at all.
Michigan took twelve penalties across the two games the last time the two teams met — not a winning strategy against a team with such a dangerous power play.
“You can’t take penalties,” Pearson said. “We’re talking about discipline, discipline, discipline and how you approach that. Especially the penalties we took when we were in here last time, they were not good penalties. We have to a lot better there.”
Penalties are a part of the game in hockey, but there’s a difference between good penalties and bad penalties. A good penalty may break up an odd-man rush or protect a teammate. Bad penalties come when a player commits a penalty rather than making the smart play — such as hooking an opposing player as he goes for the puck rather than poke-checking the puck away from him.
Taking good penalties as opposed to bad is always important, and it’ll be especially important for the Wolverines this weekend — though they’d prefer not to take any penalties at all.
“We just gotta play five-on-five, honestly,” Raabe said. “We’ve gotta play fast with them. We’re both two skilled teams, so I think if we stay out of the box, it’ll be a good game.”