A backdoor rebound on a five-on-three advantage and a perfectly placed shot at Penn State. A bounce off a Michigan defenseman’s stick in front of the net against Ohio State. A wide-open forward sniping over Mann’s shoulder from the slot against those same Buckeyes.
These are the only three power play goals the Wolverines have allowed to start the second half of the season. Michigan has killed off 18 other penalties, two of them five-minute majors, without allowing a goal.
Only one of them came off a true breakdown in the penalty kill. A five-on-three is one of the toughest tasks for a penalty-killing unit, and an unlucky bounce off a defenseman’s stick is just that — unlucky.
Friday night against Ohio State, the Wolverines gave up two goals to Ohio State on the power play. Saturday night, Michigan turned around and killed all three of the Buckeyes’ power plays — including killing two five-minute major penalties.
“We didn’t change anything,” assistant coach Kris Mayotte said Monday. “I just think we simply didn’t execute who we’ve been on the kill recently on Friday. I thought we got a little too aggressive, and while we’re a kill that likes to pressure in certain spots, we still have to be under control.”
On Saturday, freshman forward Johnny Beecher was ejected early in the second period, putting the Wolverines on the penalty kill for five minutes, regardless of if a goal was scored.
Michigan allowed the Buckeyes only one shot, while taking two shots of its own shorthanded.
Sophomore forward Garrett Van Wyhe — one of the Wolverines’ main penalty killers — was ejected late in the second, bringing another five-minute power play for Ohio State. This time, the Buckeyes managed four shots, but none were particularly dangerous scoring chances.
“We just knew we had to be more composed,” sophomore defenseman Nick Blankenburg said. “That was the biggest thing we talked about was we were playing well, and we did good things on the penalty kill, but we just kinda got overextended at times. I feel like on Saturday, we were kinda a lot more compressed and more of a cohesive unit, all four of us working together, so I feel like that helped out a lot.”
Michigan trailed throughout Saturday’s game, and the two major penalties presented an opportunity for the Buckeyes to fully put the game away. Instead, the Wolverines built momentum on the kill and stayed within a goal until Ohio State made it 3-1 with nine minutes remaining.
“I think we saw it as an opportunity,” Mayotte said. “We felt like it was one of those spots where we didn’t like the way it was going, whether it was on the refs or on us, but an opportunity to gain momentum and break their will a little bit.
“I think we took it more as, ‘Let’s be great here and really try to demoralize them,’ rather than us getting down and thinking we have this massive challenge ahead of us. Kinda put the onus on them to make them beat us.”
Mayotte was brought in from Providence in the offseason in large part to improve the Wolverines’ penalty kill. Last year, Michigan finished 46th of 60 teams with a 78.5 kill percentage. The unit Mayotte ran with the Friars, meanwhile, ranked sixth, killing penalties 86.6 percent of the time.
Just about three quarters of the way through the season, the Wolverines now come in at No. 17 in the nation with an 84 percent kill rate, and Michigan has started to take ownership over Mayotte’s system and find its stride on the kill.
“You know what, it has the potential to be better,” Mayotte said when asked how Michigan’s unit stacks up with others he’s coached. “… Early in the year, it’s me getting used to them, them getting used to me. Now, instead of — you see it with them. They’re not thinking, ‘Well, what does Mayo want me to do here?’ They’re just playing hockey. They’re making the reads. When you get guys into that position, that’s when you’re successful.”