The defense was there.
The offense was coming along.
The penalty kill was an underlying factor in Friday’s 1-1 tie for the Michigan hockey team, and a key in keeping Saturday’s game close.
The power play, however, was not.
The Wolverines struggled with the man advantage, unable to capitalize on any of the seven penalties they drew Friday, and converted only one of five Saturday. Michigan’s inability to convert haunted them with wasted opportunities in a tight 3-1 loss Saturday against Clarkson.
The struggle to score was reminiscent of last year, when the Wolverines capitalized on just 16 percent of their power plays. With a different assistant coach helming the man advantage and a more modern system in play, hopes arose on Michigan’s ability to score on the given opportunities. This weekend series against Clarkson showed otherwise.
Michigan drew early penalties in the first and second periods on Saturday. Yet, somehow the Golden Knights, despite being short a player, outshot the Wolverines.
“I think over time we are going to get more comfortable with ourselves,” said senior forward Nick Pastujov, “and you’ll see a lot more goals.”
Michigan looked uncomfortable on the man advantage early in the game, moving the puck from side to side without any semblance of a plan. Michigan coach Mel Pearson had stated the day before that Clarkson doesn’t beat itself and that the Wolverines would have to, but the idle passing looked like a half-hearted scavenger hunt for a slip-up from the opponents.
“I just think we’ve gotta simplify,” said sophomore defenseman Nick Blankenburg. “We’ve just gotta get pucks on net and shoot for rebounds. I think the rest will come.”
The strategy Blankenburg noted — getting the puck to the crease and looking for high-danger opportunities — is exactly how Michigan netted its first power play goal of the season.
Winning the faceoff, Blankenburg collected the puck at the blue line and lasered a pass across ice to a waiting Jake Slaker, camped at the faceoff circle. The senior forward cocked back his stick and shot the puck as it sped into his vicinity. The one timer itself wouldn’t have gone in, but it gave Pastujov an opportunity to deflect it in.
It took eight seconds for that play to find success.
The opportunity arose first from winning the faceoff, something the Wolverines struggled to do all game long. The Golden Knights had won 15 of the 20 faceoffs in the first period alone. That in turn led to Michigan chasing the puck around, many times during their man advantage, and cost them precious seconds that could have been used to attack rather than aimlessly chasing Clarkson.
“We were terrible there, tonight. Terrible,” Pearson said. “Then you’re chasing the puck, you don’t win faceoffs, you’re chasing the puck all over the rink and we did not do a good job in that area.
“ … We gotta play with the puck, we want to be a puck-possession team instead of chasing the puck the entire time.”
Eight seconds showed just how quickly Michigan could convert on the power play. It took 20 seconds alone for the Wolverines to recover a puck lost on the draw during a power play sophomore forward Garrett Van Wyhe drew in the second period on Saturday.
The Wolverines’ power play looked its best when the players initiated the attack by bringing the puck near the net, whether by shot or stick-work, and pursuing the opportunity in “hard ice” — a term Pearson coined to describe the gritty play around the net.
“A shot off a pad almost turned into a goal off a rebound,” Blankenburg. “So I think we’ll keep working on that this week.”
It’s a point of emphasis that Pastujov agrees the team should work on. The team averaged 4.2 power plays last season. It’s already drawn 12 in two games this season.
“I think we are going to be drawing a lot more penalties,” Pastujov said. “We can capitalize on a lot more of those chances.”
And if Michigan wants any chance of winning, it’ll have to.