The writing was on the wall.
Michigan hockey coach Red Berenson saw how his team was performing early in games, and he knew there was a connection between how the Wolverines play in the first period and how the rest of the game goes.
“I’m concerned about our start,” Berenson said before last weekend’s home-and-home series against Michigan State. “We have to have a good start. Whether it’s offensively or defensively, how we start the game is important to me.”
But over the weekend, Michigan (2-4 CCHA, 4-6 overall) entered the locker room after the first period facing 1-0 deficits both Friday and Saturday night. It ended up losing each by scores of 3-1 and 0-2.
After getting swept by the Spartans, the Wolverines fell to 1-5 in games when their opponent scores first.
During the Wolverines’ current four-game losing streak, Michigan has scored the first goal of the game only once, and that came last week against Miami (Ohio). Sophomore David Wohlberg scored in the first period, but the RedHawks scored five unanswered goals afterward.
Michigan isn’t trailing immediately in games, though. In the six games in which the opponent has scored first, just once has the goal came in the opening five minutes.
The Wolverines have been outscored 13-4 in their past four games — their longest losing streak since 2005. Berenson acknowledged the great deal of problems that the offense is having from neutral zone turnovers, to power-play deficiencies.
Michigan’s issues in the first period only show against top-notch competition.
The Wolverines have been outscored 6-1 in the first period against ranked teams this season. They have outscored unranked foes 12-3 in the first period on the year.
Déjà vu: Michigan State stole the first goal of Friday’s game and it was a critical goal that was all too familiar.
With 12:12 remaining in the first period, junior goalie Bryan Hogan went behind the goal to make a routine play on the puck. But chaos ensued in the miscommunication that followed.
Hogan hit the puck forcefully around the boards as a Spartan pressured him behind the net. But the puck ricocheted off junior defenseman Tristin Llewellyn’s stick as he tried to corral it between Hogan and the boards. The puck was too fast to handle and it ended up out in front of the unoccupied net. Michigan State forward Andrew Rowe easily tapped the puck into the net.
“Those are the things that are momentum killers,” Michigan assistant coach Billy Powers said. “It takes a little while to get those goals back. … We’re going to continue to clean those things up and work on them to make sure they’re not repeated.”
Berenson called it an “unearned goal” for the Spartans.
Michigan was victim to a similar circumstance in the Wolverines’ 3-2 loss to Boston University on Oct. 24.
With less than three minutes left in a tied game, Hogan misplayed the puck behind the net. He was trying to send the puck around the boards, but a Boston forward Joe Pereira snatched the puck behind the net and wrapped it around for what would be the winning goal.
Watch your Step: Berenson suspended senior forward Brian Lebler for Friday’s game against Michigan State for his conduct Nov. 7 vs. top-ranked Miami (Ohio) RedHawks.
Lebler was called for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty midway through the second period of and Michigan was losing 2-1 at the time.
The junior had stepped on a Miami player as the player was trying to get up, and that’s why Berenson moved swiftly in punishing the Penticton, British Columbia native.
“(Lebler) could’ve taken his foot right over,” Berenson said. “But he didn’t. He went halfway over. And he pushed off of the player. The player is trying to get up. And you could see (Lebler) push him down. … It didn’t hurt him. (Lebler) had his foot on the protective area on his pants. But you just don’t do that.”
Lebler has one goal, three assists and 10 penalty minutes on the season. He returned to the ice Saturday and played on the fourth line, along with juniors Ben Winnett and Scooter Vaughan.