Before the start of the season, Michigan coach Red Berenson had a ton of questions about his young team. He didn’t know who was going to step up on the offensive end or how his inexperienced team was going to jell. With eight freshmen on the roster, he listed more negatives than positives for the beginning of the year.
One of the few things Berenson mentioned confidently was the penalty kill.
And early on, it seems that his confidence has been reasonable.
Through three games, the Wolverines have allowed only one power play goal in 12 chances, a big reason for the team’s early success. The penalty kill unit for Michigan (3-0) had another dominant performance on Saturday, when it successfully squashed five penalties.
The unit is one of the few experienced cogs in the Wolverines’ machine, and it shows.
“We were a little more aggressive, we got in front of shots,” Berenson said. “We jumped on rebounds. We were a little better in all parts of that special teams game, and on the face-off — winning the draw, getting it out. That’s where the penalty kill starts.”
On the faceoff, two freshmen forwards have stood out. Zach Hyman has won 54 percent of his face offs this year, and Travis Lynch has won 59 percent. The team is at 54 percent, an important key to the penalty kill thus far.
The Wolverines have been penalized too much for Berenson’s liking this season, but it hasn’t hurt them. The penalty kill has been strong enough to cover for some of the mindless penalties than come with a young team, and Michigan has as many shorthanded goals as power play goals given up.
While the other aspects of Michigan’s game continue to improve, the penalty kill continues to impress. Just as Berenson predicted.
SWEET ‘D’: For a backline that has just one senior and features significant playing time from two to three freshmen a game, the Michigan defense sure has been playing well. The Wolverines have simply dominated in shots this season, outshooting the opposition 93-41. The front line of senior Greg Pateryn and sophomore Mac Bennett have set the tone for the rest of the unit, one that has allowed just two goals in three games.
“Playing with (Bennett) isn’t really an adjustment,” Pateryn said after Friday’s game. “We really work well off each other. Some of the chemistry we got from last year carried through into this season.”
Much of the defensive credit goes to fifth-year senior goaltender Shawn Hunwick, but the defense has done a good job of keeping the puck in its zone so far.
And the reassuring thing for Berenson is that even while playing at this impressive pace, the unit still thinks it has a lot to improve on.
“We’ve got to help out Hunwick a little more,” said sophomore forward Luke Moffatt. “He’s been standing on his head the last couple of games and we don’t need that.”
LYNCH-LESS: For the third game in a row, Michigan was missing junior forward Kevin Lynch, who has suffered from back spasms all week. Yet, Berenson still expected him to return for this past weekend’s series against Bentley.
But the injury proved to be too bothersome, leaving the Wolverines without one of their most talented players.
“When you get (back spasms), you just can’t skate hard,” Berenson said. “We need him to skate hard if he is going to play.”