If Michigan sweeps in Sault St. Marie this weekend, it’ll boast its best starting record since coach Red Berenson skated in a Michigan sweater.
No. 2 Michigan (6-0 CCHA, 9-1 overall) will be on the road this weekend for the fourth time in six weeks, facing off against CCHA bottom-dweller Lake Superior State (0-2, 2-5-1). With two wins this weekend, the Wolverines will be off to their best start since 1961-62 – Berenson’s senior year at Michigan.
“I just remember we expected to win every game, no matter who we played,” Berenson said. “You get that kind of confidence.”
This year’s Wolverines keep saying they aren’t overconfident, especially with a roster of 12 freshmen – but their eight-game winning streak is the longest since 2005. The 6-0 conference start is the first in Michigan history.
Michigan continued to work on improving its penalty-killing unit in practice this week. It may be at the top of the CCHA, but the Maize and Blue are just mediocre when it comes to killing penalties. The Wolverines have allowed eight power-play goals in 49 opportunities this season and five power-play tallies in their six conference games, good enough for just fifth in the conference in penalty-killing percentage. Michigan has allowed a power-play goal in six of its last seven games.
Berenson has repeatedly called the penalty-killing unit a “work in progress” but said it’s hard for the Wolverines to work on the penalty kill in practice because they’re playing against their own teammates.
“Our guys aren’t going to shoot the puck, really rear back and shoot it on the point when you’re coming up to block it,” he said. “They’re probably going to let up a little bit, so it’s not the same. It’s like not using real bullets. But just the same, we work on it, we look at video.
“Right before the game, we’ll show our (penalty kill) guys the other team’s power play and what to expect.”
Michigan has relied on veterans Kevin Porter and Chad Kolarik on the penalty kill, but freshman Matt Rust has been one of the Wolverines’ biggest weapons while shorthanded. Rust is one of the most-used players on the penalty kill but has been on the ice for just one of the eight power-play goals allowed.
Against Lake Superior State, the Wolverines hope to reduce what Berenson called “tired penalties” – calls that come during the second and third period of games, when the Wolverines start to become outskated or fatigued. To win this weekend, Michigan cannot allow the Lakers to get back into the game like Nebraska-Omaha did two weeks ago, when Michigan gave up a lead in the second period of both games.
But even though the Wolverines never trailed against winless Alaska last weekend, Michigan played at a slower pace than it did against teams like Boston University during its first home series.
“We turned the puck over at the blue line a lot (against Alaska), and I think we played down,” Rust said.
Injury update: The Wolverines will be traveling to Sault St. Marie without one of their biggest first-year contributors. Freshman Louie Caporusso, who is tied for fourth on the team with eight points through 10 games, injured his knee in practice and is expected to be out for four-to-six weeks.