NEW YORK CITY — If you count striking iron, Nick Pastujov had a hat trick in the first period alone, and Michigan led Penn State, 4-3.
Officials don’t though, and nothing in the rulebook would have aided the Wolverines’ offensive execution on Saturday night.
When Nittany Lions’ goaltender Peyton Jones blocked junior forward Will Lockwood’s shot eight minutes into the game, Pastujov shifted to Jones’ weakside, the puck careening towards right towards him. With nothing between his stick and the back of the net beside the puck itself, he reared his stick and flicked the puck forward.
It hit the crossbar.
Michigan got the puck back seven times after his miss before Jones gloved it. The result? Seven missed shots. All from point-blank range.
Six minutes later? Pastujov took another shot. Again, a familiar clank echoed throughout Madison Square Garden.
Pastujov found the bar once more, and in a period where it outshot Penn State 22-8, Michigan had nothing to show but a three-goal deficit.
“That’s just the way it goes sometimes,” said sophomore forward Luke Morgan. “We came out ready to play, we hit a bunch of post. We had a lot of great opportunities. I think we got a little frustrated with that. When that happens, it led to mental mistakes and some of it we can work on, but sometimes it’s just the way the game goes.”
Against Minnesota and Michigan State earlier this season, the Wolverines took 45-plus shots but failed to capitalize on many of their easier attempts. The difference against the Nittany Lions, though, was that Michigan consistently got good opportunities in the crease and actively screened off Jones instead of blindly shooting into the opposing team’s blue line.
“It’s frustrating, but that’s going to happen,” said Michigan coach Mel Pearson. “ … And that’s the game and what you have to do is you can’t get away from your game.”
By the time Penn State jumped out to a three-goal lead, it was too late, though. All of the Wolverines’ offensive pressure and momentum was rendered moot by their inability to finish, and completely eviscerated each time the blue line coughed the puck up deep in the defensive zone and yielded to a Nittany Lion odd-man rushes.
Contrary to what the 5-2 score suggests, Michigan, just like before, had every chance to walk out of Madison Square Garden with at least another point. Instead, it walks out of Madison Square Garden lamenting a game it had in control. It’s easy to focus on the back-breaking defensive turnovers, but in a zero-sum game, offensive miscues hurt the Wolverines just as much.
“Coach said ‘we can’t outscore our mistakes,’” Morgan said. “We have to play a solid 60 (minutes) the whole way through.”