Power play goes from cause of concern to state of emergency

By Matt Slovin, Daily Sports Editor
Published January 8, 2012

Against Lake Superior State this weekend, the Michigan hockey team went a combined 0-for-4 on the power play. The Wolverines averaged less than a shot per man-advantage.

Red Berenson has never seen a power play unit struggle like this one in his 31 years as a head coach, 28 of which have been spent at Michigan.

Every time an opponent takes a penalty, the Wolverines go into hibernation. Passes hone in on the tape of sticks — opponents’ ones — and pucks slide carelessly out of the attacking zone.

“It’s really been a work in progress — but there’s not a lot of progress,” Berenson said of the unit, which ranks seventh out of the CCHA’s 11 teams. “We might have to change the name from 'power play' to something else.”

And Saturday night, the power play's lack of production cost Michigan what would have been a much-needed sweep. During the second period of the Wolverines’ shootout loss to Lake Superior State, the Lakers were whistled for two consecutive penalties.

On both occasions, it was Lake Superior State that had the better opportunities. And though Michigan has yet to allow a shorthanded goal this season, it looked like the Lakers would be the ones to end that streak. In fact, during Friday night’s 4-2 win and Saturday’s shootout loss, the Wolverines had power plays that failed to yield a single shot.

“It’s disappointing when you don’t generate more offense when you’re on the power play,” Berenson said. “The other team gets a life when they kill the penalty. If you’re on the right side of it, you get a life, and if you aren’t, it’s discouraging.”

The reoccurring special teams issues for the Wolverines have shattered the unit’s confidence. Though Michigan leads the CCHA in scoring offense, just 14 of its 84 goals have come while up a skater. The surprisingly prolific offense creates far more looks offensively when skating at even strength than when on the man advantage. And that’s something that the Wolverines’ captain can’t possibly explain.

“I think they’re frustrated,” said senior forward Luke Glendening. “It helps when you’re confident on the power play.”

Though Glendening doesn’t play on the man advantage, he’s seen penalty after penalty killed off with ease by the opposition. And it’s something that’s taken its toll mentally on his teammates.

Some of the frustration can be attributed to Lake Superior State’s league-leading penalty kill. But this wasn’t just a one-weekend letdown for Michigan. Berenson-coached teams are traditionally very successful on the power play, but the Wolverines have been stagnant from the beginning — they failed to convert their first opportunity in the season opener against Niagara.

In the locker room, Michigan tries to keep its struggles in perspective, because teams can win without their special teams performing optimally. But Saturday night, the Wolverines needed the power play to bail them out. The conversion never came.

“We try not to put the whole game onto the power play, but (it) can definitely make the difference in a one-goal game,” Berenson said.

If it wasn’t obvious before that the power play has the potential to cost Michigan crucial league points, it became painfully so against Lake Superior State on Saturday. To right the ship, the team needs to spend extra time on the man advantage in practice and rifle in shots from the point during games. The measly opportunities the Wolverines did garner on the power play this weekend simply won’t cut it as the team gets deeper into league play.