Confidence is a funny thing.
For the Michigan hockey team, it has often come and gone in a blink of an eye. The Wolverines seemed to be stuck in quicksand as they endured a five-game losing streak to start November.
And a lot has turned around in Michigan’s recent three-game winning streak, — including the offense’s nine-goal resurgence in last weekend’s College Hockey Showcase. The most important turnaround is arguably the Wolverines’ recent power play success.
Michigan has scored four power play goals in its last three games, and special teams could catapult the Wolverines to a much-needed series sweep this weekend against Ohio State.
“When you get a couple of goals on the power play, it helps because you can play a little more relaxed, and can take chances, and you feel a little more confident with the puck,” junior forward Louie Caporusso said. “When those three things all come together, that’s what makes the power play successful. I think confidence is the biggest thing of the power play — and a little bit of luck.”
Michigan (3-5-0-0 CCHA, 7-7-0 overall) will need both things in Columbus, especially considering the Wolverines’ current 11th-place standing in the CCHA.
The rise of Michigan’s power play and steady efficiency of its penalty kill show how contagious confidence can be. Ohio State (4-5-1-1, 6-9-1) has had no such experience this season.
In their six non-conference games, the Buckeyes have killed penalties at a 90-percent clip. But that rate drops to 62 percent in Ohio State’s 10 CCHA games. Ferris State, the conference’s highest-scoring offense, netted eight power play goals in two games against the Buckeyes on Nov. 20-21.
Ohio State has given up multiple power play goals in seven of those 10 conference games. And the Buckeyes’ overall rate of 73 percent is the fifth-worst penalty kill in Division I hockey.
Both Caporusso and junior forward Carl Hagelin downplayed the statistic and said that they were just concerned about the Wolverines’ play. It certainly has improved as of late.
“We’re starting to pick it up on the power play right now,” Hagelin said. “We’re moving the puck pretty well. … We’re on a roll.”
The Wolverines sport the third-best penalty-kill rate in Division I, and the unit has been the team’s strength throughout the season. And one reason the extra-man attack has improved is its competition in practice.
“Our penalty killers are really frustrating to work against (in practice) because they’re good,” Berenson said. “It helps and it hurts. It helps us to know that if we can beat these guys or make a good play against them, then we have a chance to do that in the game. But it hurts (because) we can’t beat them.”
Michigan has been getting better touches on the puck, establishing longer possession in the offensive zone, and improving its passing on the power play. Berenson also sees the Wolverines moving the puck quicker, which creates more scoring opportunities.
If there is one area the Wolverines can take advantage in this weekend, it is on special teams. During their five-game skid, they scored just two power play goals and weren’t very effective.
Now, Michigan is making things happen around the net on the power play, and the puck is bouncing the Wolverines’ way. Newfound confidence could breed complacency, but Michigan knows now is not the time to rest.
“We’ve got to keep this winning streak alive,” Caporusso said. “We didn’t get off to the greatest start. We don’t have that cushion like we normally do to be able to give up wins that we deserve. That’s going to be the type of hockey we’re going to have to play — desperate hockey. We’re going to have to get the wins.”