COLUMBUS — Halfway through the second period, the Michigan hockey team netted a goal to extend its lead to two. The first period saw a power-play goal from Nick Pastujov, and the second, a quick backdoor cut from Emil Orhvall.
But there was nothing about the precarious two-goal lead that indicated a strong offense and commanding play. Michigan was getting dominated by No. 13 Ohio State — and the aftermath was a 3-2 loss.
“The score isn’t always indicative of how the game is going,” Martin said. “Coach (Mel Pearson) said it after the first period, he thought that was one of our worst periods of the year and we had the lead.”
After the first period, it was clear. A power play had granted the Wolverines the brief moment of relief from playing in their zone, and allowed them to attack the Buckeyes in theirs.
But every other moment of the opening frame was largely controlled by Ohio State and its relentless attack. Battles that had to be won in the neutral zone were lost. Pucks that were desperately pushed out toward the blue line were retained and brought back. Any play in the offensive zone was a feeble excuse to reprieve itself of the punishment Michigan was taking in the defensive zone.
The Buckeyes had complete and utter control of all three zones.
But the Wolverines’ inability to zone exit haunted them the most on Friday’s matchup.
“Even when we were up, the time on attack,” said senior forward Nick Pastujov. “They were kind of having us in our own zone.”
When opposing players attack, they bring the puck over the blue line before they can enter — or otherwise be called for offsides. So to signify the end of an attack and a begin to one of its own, Michigan had to bring the puck across the line to the neutral zone. But the seemingly simple task was too tall for the team at times.
“They put some pressure on us,” Pearson said on the Wolverines’ incapability to zone exit. “We’re just too slow with the puck, too deliberate.”
Michigan players would receive the puck and come down the side of their zone looking to make an articulate pass to the open man. But the moment of hesitation between making the right read and attacking the pressure head-on caused the offense to buckle and give the puck right back to the opposition in their zone.
“They pinched down on — their defenseman was coming down on our winger, caused a lot of havoc,” Pearson said. “We didn’t do a good job. Our center wasn’t coming low enough.”
It was an obvious problem that the players knew what was going on. They just couldn’t do anything about it.
“I think they did a much better job of just getting into our zone than we did of getting into theirs they did a better job in the neutral zone than we did,” Pastujov said. “Just making easy, simple plays. I think we try to beat a lot of guys wide. I think we try to make that perfect play a lot of the time. It just takes a little switch here and there consistently throughout the game and we’ll start dominating these games.”
Senior Luke Martin had his own explanation for the team’s struggles to exit the defensive zone. But the word “simple” echoed the same sentiment. Make simple plays for a simple task, and maybe secure the game at hand.
“Just simple. Simple and communication,” Martin said on getting safer zone exits. “Get it to the next level, getting it behind their D and making them turn. It’s the little things, little things that make a big difference.”