The Michigan hockey team has allowed three goals in each of its first five games.
A number of forces have been blamed for the defensive woes, including penalty killing, 12 freshmen and careless passing in the defensive zone.
But despite all these other problems, senior goaltender Josh Blackburn”s performances have not lived up to his typically high standard as a fourth-year starter for the Wolverines.
During his first three years between the pipes, Blackburn stopped over 90 percent of the opponents” shots, while posting a goals-against average of 2.30.
So far this season, Blackburn has allowed 2.98 goals per game, and his save percentage has fallen below 86 percent.
After Saturday”s 5-3 over Western Michigan Blackburn had a long meeting with Michigan goalie coach Stan Matwijiw.
“I didn”t know what was wrong, but I knew something was wrong,” Blackburn said.
Despite the victory, Matwijiw knew that something had to be done.
“He hasn”t gotten off to a great start this year,” Matwijiw said. “Last weekend wasn”t one of his best series of the year.”
This week, Blackburn has gone back to the basics.
Matwijiw has been a much more visible presence in practice this week, and Blackburn has worked really hard to build his confidence through repetition and mechanics.
“We”ve identified some things and worked hard on those,” Blackburn said. “I”m getting back to where I was last year, getting out of some bad habits. It”s the little things that we”ve worked on.”
Matwijiw”s biggest change was moving Blackburn an extra step away from the net.
“I was back a little too far,” Blackburn said. “I just need to be more patient and hold my ground just a split second longer.
After extra coaching and extra practice this week, Blackburn”s coach expects to see a better performance in goal.
“I can pretty much assure you that you are going to see a different Josh Blackburn this weekend,” Matwijiw said.
Despite his early struggles in the net, the Wolverines still believe in their senior netminder.
“We know that he is one of the best goalies in the league,” captain Jed Ortmeyer said. “We shoot on him every day and we know that he can stop all the pucks we need him to.”
“He gives us a chance to win every night,” alternate captain Mike Cammalleri added.
Michigan coach Red Berenson was quick to point out that solving the Wolverines” goals against problems will involve much more than Blackburn.
“Our overall defensive play this year has been average,” Berenson said. “And average isn”t going to be good enough.”