By Michael Laurila, Daily Sports Writer
Published November 16, 2012
There’s nothing more demoralizing for a team than allowing a short-handed goal.
When the No. 13 Michigan hockey team faced No. 7 Notre Dame on Thursday night for the first game of a two-game series, not only did the power-play unit finish 0-for-2, but it also allowed Notre Dame to score a short-handed goal. With the Wolverines on the power play, Fighting Irish forward Mike Voran notched a one timer to tie the game during the second period. The tally drastically shifted the momentum in Notre Dame’s favor, and it went on to win 3-1.
“When your power play goes out there and get scored on that’s a huge goal for a road team,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson on Friday. “They took advantage of it and I thought they carried the play the rest of the second period.”
Michigan’s struggles didn’t stop there. The Wolverines’ power play finished 0-for-5 on Friday en route to a 4-1 loss, for a total of seven fruitless man-advantage opportunities on the weekend and a sweep at the hands of Notre Dame (4-1 CCHA, 7-3 overall).
This hasn’t been the case for Michigan (2-4-1, 4-5-1) all season though. The Wolverines’ power-play unit has scored nine times on 45 chances and ranks 18th nationally. Last weekend, when the Wolverines split their home-and-home series against Michigan State, the unit tallied two goals.
Berenson attributed Michigan’s difficulties this past weekend to a lack of ability to get the puck to the net.
“We thought we had a couple answers to (Notre Dame’s penalty kill),” Berenson said. “I thought we moved the puck pretty well on a couple of occasions, but we didn’t get the shots we were looking for, and when we did they got blocked.”
Notre Dame’s proficient penalty kill might have also contributed to Michigan’s struggles. They constantly badgered the Wolverines, getting in front of the puck and blocking shots. More than once, Michigan went almost the entire two minutes without setting up down low because the Fighting Irish cleared the puck so easily.
Notre Dame came into the weekend series with the fifth-best penalty kill unit in the nation, allowing just five goals on 45 chances. On the whole, the Notre Dame defense allows just 1.70 goals per game, good enough for the third-best defensive unit in the nation.
Senior forward Kevin Lynch, who was named an assistant captain earlier this week, attributed new rotations as a possibility for the lack of success. He said both nights the Wolverines changed “some of the formats” of the power play, and they were trying out new strategies. Needless to say, it appears that these changes didn’t have the expected result.
Lynch expressed similar sentiments as Berenson about Notre Dame’s ability and execution in getting down on the ice and blocking shots.
“We were trying to be too cute instead of making the simple play and getting pucks to the net,” he said.
Freshman defenseman Jacob Trouba leads all Michigan players with three power-play goals. He’s been a staple all season on the unit, but along with the rest of the team, couldn’t get anything going against the stingy Fighting Irish penalty killers.
During Saturday’s game, after a Trouba goal to tie the game at one apiece, the Wolverines went on the power play again just a minute later holding all the momentum. But after another failed effort, the game remained tied, which was a theme throughout the series — Michigan was unable to tally that go-ahead goal to gain momentum, especially with a man advantage.
Lynch said that overall, the Wolverines are “fighting inconsistency” right now, and that is equally true for the power play. The unit will need to get back to the hard-nosed effort that made it one of the best power-plays in the conference. And they will definitely need to limit the momentum-killing, short-handed goals, too.