In any sport, losing streaks bring deficiencies to the forefront. The four-game losing streak that the Michigan hockey team is currently enduring is no different.
Through nine games this season, Michigan was averaging a robust 4.56 goals per game, with the power play clicking at an impressive clip of 33 percent. In the six contests since then, the Wolverines are averaging just 2.83 goals per game, and the power play has come back to earth. Since that ninth game, Michigan has been converting on the power play just 14 percent of the time. It’s no coincidence that the team has lost four of those six matchups.
“We’ve got to be willing to battle,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “There’s been a lot of rebounds the past four or five games that we didn’t get. We have to be willing to battle for those loose pucks, win those races to those pucks, and, when we start doing that, the puck starts going in the net.”
But the offensive difficulties go deeper than simply battling for rebounds in front of the net. Because the power play was so successful in the beginning of the year, it overshadowed the fact that the Wolverines were having trouble scoring at even strength.
During the first nine games, Michigan scored 24 of its 41 goals on the power play for an average of 2.67 power play goals per game. In their last six contests, the Wolverines have only notched seven power play goals for an average of 1.167 power play goals per game. During this six-game span, the team has scored just 17 goals total.
Berenson thinks the team’s inability to score at full strength is due to the number of penalties that have been called in Michigan’s games this season.
“I think (the penalties) are affecting the outcome of the game,” Berenson said. “No one on our team plays more than 12 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey. The average player is playing seven minutes.”
Looking even deeper into the Wolverines’ offensive woes, there is another statistic that is even more puzzling. Without T.J. Hensick’s four goals over that six game period, Michigan forwards have managed just 10 goals, for an average of 1.67 goals per game.
With so many freshmen coming into the program, Michigan was looking for an increase in production from some of its role players from last season. Forwards like Chad Kolarik and Brandon Kaleniecki were expected to shoulder more of the scoring burden.
Compared to the 2004-05 season through 14 games, Kolarik has one fewer goal than last year. Kaleniecki has notched just one more goal but has one less point.
“We have players who aren’t playing to the level they are capable of,” Berenson said. “So (the) challenge for our whole team, starting with our upperclassmen, is: Are you playing as well as you need to play for this team to do well?”
Before last weekend’s series against Miami (Ohio), the Michigan coaching staff tinkered with the offensive lines in order to spark the team. But with just five goals in the two games, they seem to have had very little effect in altering the scoring drought.
“I don’t know if (the line changes) helped us or hurt us,” sophomore Kevin Porter said. “We’re just not clicking right now, and we aren’t getting the bounces that we usually get.”
The scoring issues have also coincided with a particularly difficult stretch in Michigan’s schedule. Over the past four games, the Wolverines have faced three teams that are currently in the top 10, including Wisconsin and Miami – currently ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the country, respectively. Michigan begins the bulk of its CCHA competition in the coming weeks, so there are more tough weekends ahead.
“You don’t teach offense, you don’t preach offense, but offense happens when you are working hard and playing well,” Berenson said. “That means we’re not working as hard or playing as well as we should be.”