Sitting at the press conference after Saturday’s 4-2 loss
to Minnesota, Brandon Rogers and Al Montoya had blank looks on
their faces, trying to figure out what had happened this past
weekend. Both players obviously didn’t want to be talking to
the media about how they and their teammates had become the first
Michigan team in the 11-year history of the College Hockey Showcase
to be swept.

Janna Hutz
Dwight Helminen and the Wolverines have hit a dry spell on the powerplay, failing to score with the man advantage in the past 16 attempts. (CURTIS HILLER/Daily)

The most troublesome aspect of this weekend’s games is the
inconsistent play that has plagued the team, and the powerplay has
been the perfect incarnation of Michigan’s inconsistency.
With a 9-5 record, it may appear that nothing is seriously wrong
and that the season has still been largely successful. But as
losers of three straight, the Wolverines have already been on both
ends of the emotional spectrum, and the season isn’t even
half over yet.

About a month ago, Michigan couldn’t score at even
strength, and the powerplay was the only thing keeping the team
afloat. The last time Michigan scored a powerplay goal was when it
scored all three of its goals on the man-advantage in a 3-2 win
over Ferris State on Nov. 8. In the four games since then, Michigan
is 0-for-16 on the powerplay.

Coach Red Berenson has admitted that the powerplay has struggled
because players are trying to do too much. After the initial
success earlier in the season had run out, Berenson began to tinker
with the powerplay units in hopes of finding a spark.

“We’ve got to find the right mix and the right
chemistry too on our powerplays,” Berenson said on Saturday.
“That’s why I’ve been changing it around, because
I didn’t like the chemistry. I think it’s a work in
progress.”

It seems to be pretty late in the season to be blaming an
unsuccessful powerplay on poor chemistry. Aren’t these the
same players that were on the same lines that scored earlier in the
season? What’s changed? Nothing — and that’s what
should scare Berenson.

The start of the powerplay drought is disguised by the best win
of the season — two weeks ago when the Wolverines traveled to
Columbus to take on a steadily improving Buckeye club. On Friday
night, Michigan put forth its most dominant performance of the
season with a convincing 4-0 win. Montoya was nothing short of
spectacular, making 30 saves and standing on his head several times
to protect the shutout. Four different players scored a goal
— all at even strength — and three of the four lines
had a hand in scoring them. During that game, Michigan played like
it was the best team in the country.

Fast forward to the next night. The momentum from such a victory
would crush any attempt by Ohio State to salvage the weekend.
Michigan scored the first goal just 21 seconds into the game and
seemed to close the door. But somewhere, Lee Corso said “Not
so fast, my friend.” Ohio State went on to score the next
five goals to hand Michigan a 5-2 loss.

How could a team that dominated the previous night score the
first goal and not be able to seal the deal? There were a number of
factors, but one of the most obvious was the failure to convert on
a five-minute major powerplay in the second period. Down 3-1 late
in the second period, Michigan had a great chance to cut into that
deficit. But rather than capitalize on a great opportunity, it
couldn’t convert. To add insult to injury, the powerplay unit
gave up a shorthanded goal to increase the deficit to 4-1.

A week off after the Ohio State series didn’t remedy the
problem. Another powerplay this past Saturday was eerily similar to
the situation in Columbus, when Michigan had another five-minute
powerplay, and even a 5-on-3 advantage for 1:32 at the end of the
second period. Again, Michigan failed to convert, and again,
Michigan gave up a shorthanded goal that took all the wind out of
its sails.

It’s frustrating to see this team struggling the way it
is. The talent level and depth is perhaps the best since 1998, the
last time Michigan won a National Championship. It seems easy to
take a disappointing loss on a Friday — Michigan is 1-3
against CCHA teams on Friday — to ignite the team and play a
solid game Saturday night. Berenson said as much Saturday night:
“It’s too bad it took an embarrassing loss to Wisconsin
to get our team to realize the kind of competition that’s out
there.”

The pieces are in place for another trip to the Frozen Four.
It’s still too early to panic, but judging from the looks on
the player’s faces Saturday night — blank as the
powerplay in the last four games — they are definitely
concerned.

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