After notching 12 goals in a home-and-home series with Notre Dame almost one month ago, Michigan’s offensive production has consistently fallen each weekend. The fact that competition has become increasingly stiffer has almost certainly been a factor, but the Wolverines know that it won’t get any easier when they face the CCHA’s best in Miami (Ohio) this weekend in Oxford.
In an effort to close the gap between the Red Hawks and the Wolverines, Michigan’s coaches have decided to switch up their forward lines, hoping to create more scoring chances.
“I think we’ve gone with certain lines for a period of time and tried to make things work,” associate coach Mel Pearson said. “But every once in a while you have to mix things up a little to give the boys a little bit of a spark. We’re just trying to put a little spark in our lines and improve our chemistry because we’ve been playing OK, but this will help us.”
Some changes are based on empirical evidence – such as the improved play of freshman Tim Miller last weekend when senior Brandon Kaleniecki was out due to injury.
“We had Kaleniecki out (last weekend) so we had an opportunity to try a couple of things,” Pearson said. “One of the things we noticed was that we liked Ebbett and Miller playing together. Miller was able to get his first goal, and we want to get some of the younger kids going like that.”
Other changes are based entirely on gut feelings.
“Sometimes coaches are just going on hunches,” Pearson said. “There’s no scientific method to it, or no reasoning. We’re just going on hunches.”
One such change is pairing sophomore Kevin Porter with freshmen Andrew Cogliano and Brandon Naurato. All three have played a significant role in Michigan’s attack this season, and head coach Red Berenson is hoping the chemistry between the three is right.
“We’re putting Porter on right wing,” Berenson said. “And Cogliano is a left-handed centerman, so hopefully they can get something going. (Brandon) Naurato is a bit of an opportunist, and both Cogliano and Porter make good plays. So hopefully they can find Naurato and complement each other.”
After practicing together this week, Porter and Cogliano are confident that they can throw a log onto each other’s offensive fire, helping to add to their 30 combined points. Cogliano looks forward to playmaking opportunities that he will get with Porter and Naurato on the ice.
“I have Porter and Naurato on my line and they are both two snipers who like to get open for the shot,” Cogliano said. “I think we will work well because I like to distribute the puck to those guys for shots.”
Porter is optimistic about the trio’s scoring potential because each of the three forwards has a diverse and unselfish style of play.
“If you have three shooters then there is no one to go in the corners and get it out to those guys,” Porter said. “I think Cogliano and I can play in the corners, and Naurato can too. We can all shoot pretty well, so if one or two of us get in the corner and one of us is in the slot, we should be able to beat the defense pretty easily.”
Michigan’s coaches will also be looking for increased production from their power play unit this weekend. Through the first 13 games of the season, the Wolverines own the nation’s top-rated power play, but their success rate has dropped from 33 percent to 26.5 percent since the Notre Dame series.
Though he hasn’t announced specific plans yet, Berenson acknowledged that there are changes in the works for the power play unit.
“I think we’re going to tweak the power play a little bit,” Berenson said. “We’re not sure if we’ll make any major changes, but we have to keep changing, it seems. Everyone is so prepared for you and knows exactly what you’ve done, so you have to tweak it from time to time.”
Even though there are so many changes in the forward lines and special teams, the defensive pairings are not changing. After juniors Tim Cook and Jason Dest found themselves with a minus-five rating several weeks ago, Berenson talked about changing the pairings. But in recent games, they have raised their rating to minus-two. Pearson is happy to see increased offensive production while the pair is on the ice.
“They should be plus-players,” Pearson said. “They’re both juniors, and they’ve both played a lot of hockey games. I think they were disappointed, as was the coaching staff. But they have played better – each one of them has upped their game.”
Notes: The Los Angeles Kings recalled former Michigan alternate-captain Jeff Tambellini from the American Hockey League’s Manchester Monarchs. In 18 games this season for the Monarchs, Tambellini leads the team with goals (14) and points (25). His goal total is good for second in the AHL, and he is sixth overall in points. Tambellini will join the parent club for tonight’s game against Chicago … Jed Ortmeyer, who captained Michigan from 2001-03, has family obligations to tend to and was granted non-roster status by the NHL. The right-winger can return to his team on Sunday, Dec. 3.