Special teams play significant role in series split with No. 18 Wisconsin
Earlier in the week, Mel Pearson said he expected the series against No. 18 Wisconsin could get a little “chippy.”
With conference points at stake for both the Badgers and the 20th-ranked Michigan hockey team this weekend, the presence of physicality and emotions was almost inevitable. What Pearson couldn’t have foreseen, though, was that Friday night’s game would have a penalty summary lengthy enough to look like a team roster.
The night witnessed a grand total of 48 penalty minutes — with 17 separate players receiving penalties — and 24 of them were doled out during the first period of the game. The Wolverines accounted for just over half of these minutes, putting Wisconsin on the power play seven times in the game.
“Discipline was not good,” Pearson said. “You could see right at the start of the second period after we got the lead that (Wisconsin) was going to come out and play physical and try to get us off our game a little bit, and they did a good job. And we fell right into it, and took some penalties in the second and the third and that gave them some momentum and some life. And that’s what they wanted to do.”
Added sophomore forward Jake Slaker: “We took way too many penalties and I think it’s unacceptable on our part.”
And though Michigan gave the Badgers many man-advantage opportunities that played a part in their third period resurgence, when they rallied for two more goals, the Wolverines largely stood their ground on the penalty kill. Wisconsin converted on just one of its seven special teams showings.
On the other side of Michigan’s special teams, there was a stark contrast from last weekend’s lifeless power plays in Ohio State and the general trend of this season. The Wolverines lit the lamp twice, constituting just under half of the goals in Michigan’s 5-3 win.
The first time came just over halfway into the first period, when junior defenseman Joseph Cecconi took the puck into the Badgers’ zone and slapped a strong shot into the top-left shelf. Then, on another power play with under three minutes remaining in the same period, Slaker — set up perfectly outside of the crease — knocked the puck in.
“The power play is just a huge momentum swing, and when we’re not scoring it’s tough,” Slaker said. “… You know it hasn’t been our strongest aspect of the game, but it showed up big for us tonight. And it shows we’re working hard in practice and sticking to details for that.”
The next night, though not nearly as physical as Friday and with less than half the penalty minutes, the ability to perform on both sides of special teams again proved crucial.
But Saturday night, the Wolverines’ penalty kill — which sits second to last in the conference with an effectiveness of 75.90 percent — wasn’t as resilient as it had been just a day earlier.
With five man-advantages during the game, Wisconsin found the net on two of them, all before Michigan put anything on the scoreboard to show for its efforts.
On the Wolverines’ first penalty of the game, the Badgers were able to convert and bring their lead to two. Then, just over three minutes into the second period, when sophomore forward James Sanchez was called for unsportsmanlike conduct, Wisconsin defenseman Wyatt Kalynuk sent the puck past sophomore goaltender Hayden Lavigne just seconds into the penalty. This was enough to bench Lavigne for the remainder of the game, as the netminder allowed four goals off 16 shots.
The night before told a very different story for Lavigne. The goaltender largely bailed his team out Friday, as the Badgers fired double the amount of shots, forcing Lavigne to make 37 saves in the showing.
Pearson noted Lavigne has seen better nights, but attributed the Wolverines’ early deficit to poor timing with penalties. And Michigan never recovered.
“We were (more disciplined), but still, a couple bad penalties,” Pearson said. “… It happened at bad times too, when we were trying to get back in the game. And we would take a penalty, and lose all of that momentum. So we have to understand how to manage the game better in those situations.”