The Michigan hockey team was swept this weekend at Michigan Tech. After a strong showing against ranked opponents Boston University and UMass-Lowell, the Wolverines proved there are holes in nearly every facet of their game.
Here are five things we can take away from a disappointing weekend and start to the season as Michigan enters a bye week.
1. The forward lines are still very much in flux.
Prior to Friday’s series opener against Michigan Tech, Michigan coach Red Berenson announced 11 lineup changes in hopes of sparking a dormant offense.
The coach split up his first line, separating sophomore forward JT Compher from junior forward Andrew Copp. The duo, two centers by nature, had been playing side-by-side all season in hopes that, with Compher at the wing, last season’s top-two scorers would create offense for one another.
It was a move that sent Compher back to his comfort zone on the second line and junior center Boo Nieves to left wing opposite freshman Tony Calderone. Sophomore forward Tyler Motte jumped up to the first line to play alongside Copp and freshman Dexter Dancs.
In their new positions, the Wolverines managed only one goal against Huskies netminder Jamie Phillips, prompting more changes Saturday.
After bumping Michigan’s most productive line down to third on Friday, Berenson moved the trio of sophomore Alex Kile, freshman Dylan Larkin and senior Zach Hyman back into the second slot while pushing Compher’s line back to third.
Sophomore forward Evan Allen was benched in favor of freshman Alex Talcott, and Berenson opted for junior goaltender Steve Racine after sophomore Zach Nagelvoort allowed five goals Friday.
Short of starting freshman defenseman Zach Werenski as a forward, Michigan did all it could to end its scoring drought. But three goals in two games indicates the Wolverines’ lineup is still far from settled.
2. But special teams is still the biggest question mark.
Michigan and Michigan Tech combined for 62 penalty minutes — longer than a regulation hockey game. But only one team’s penalty-kill unit was scored on — four times to be exact.
The Wolverines allowed four power-play goals in seven penalty-kill situations on Saturday after stopping the Huskies in six man-down chances on Friday. As they have all season, the defense committed egregious turnovers and gaffes on the blue line.
On Friday, the unit put up a minus-7 plus/minus rating in a 5-2 loss, and finished at minus-11 on the weekend.
Meanwhile, senior defenseman Brennan Serville — who has been a healthy scratch on more than one occasion this season — didn’t make an appearance this weekend. In his place, freshman defensemen Cutler Martin and Sam Piazza, who played one game each, were minus-1 in their respective appearances.
Having surrendered nine goals this weekend, Michigan has now allowed 27 goals in seven contests, an average of 4.5 goals per game.
Berenson has said time and time again that his team can’t afford to give up four goals and, save UMass-Lowell, put out a victory. He was proven correct twice this weekend.
3. Faceoffs matter. A lot.
After Saturday’s loss, Berenson was quick to attribute yet another stagnant performance to faceoffs. He has said it before: if nothing else, faceoff wins are an indicator of aggression.
Michigan and Michigan Tech won 31 faceoffs apiece on Friday, but the Huskies outdrew the Wolverines on Saturday, claiming 38 wins to Michigan’s 25. The stat contributed to Michigan’s inability to climb out of an early two-goal deficit to avoid the sweep.
Copp and senior forward Travis Lynch, some of the Wolverines’ best faceoff men this season, lost 13 draws each in 22 and 20 chances, respectively. Larkin was the only player to finish above 50 percent in faceoffs on the night. Meanwhile, Compher finished the weekend just 3-for-16 in the circle.
For context, in Michigan’s win over UMass-Lowell, its only dominant victory of the season, the Wolverines won twice as many faceoffs as the River Hawks.
More than just a pattern, faceoffs increase puck possession. And for a team that struggles to put the puck in the net, that matters a whole lot.
4. No more passes for Michael Downing.
Downing, a player who has created a reputation for hard hits, showed why he spent a significant amount of time in the box last season, earning matching major penalties on Friday and Saturday.
Shortly after Compher was ejected in the third period Saturday, the sophomore defenseman earned his second game misconduct of the weekend. He too watched Michigan’s third straight loss from the locker room.
Two game misconducts means Downing will have to be on his best behavior because every one from here on out will yield a one-game suspension, per NCAA rules.
5. Misery loves company.
Save for No. 1 Minnesota, which currently sits in its rightful spot atop the conference standings with a 5-1 record, the Big Ten is up for grabs, just like a spot in Michigan’s lineup.
Last year’s last-place finisher, Penn State, currently occupies the second position, and has received votes in the USCHO.com rankings thanks to a 5-1-2 non-conference record.
For its troubles, Michigan currently sits in fifth place in front of a struggling Wisconsin team. The Badgers, one of the youngest teams in the country, are winless in four contests.
The Wolverines are leading the league in something — they’ve surrendered 27 goals, 10 more than the next-highest total allowed in the Big Ten. Projected to finish second in the conference, Michigan won’t want to lead that category come March.