TOLEDO, Ohio — Michigan coach Red Berenson made the power play a priority this season.
According to Berenson, this year’s Wolverines have spent more time practicing special teams than any team he has ever coached. After all, the unit was mediocre at best last year, with a 15.8 percent power play conversion rate.
So after the first period of Michigan’s home opener against Niagara, it looked as though practice had made perfect. The Wolverines lit the lamp on four of their first eight power plays this year, dominating with the man advantage.
But after the team managed just six goals in its five-game losing streak, Michigan’s power play went into a tailspin. The Wolverines mustered just three goals in 49 attempts, two of which came against CCHA basement-dweller Lake Superior State. Heading into the weekend’s series against Bowling Green, the Wolverines’ anemic power play hit a low at 8.3 percent on the season.
“We’ve been snakebit offensively,” Berenson said Saturday when asked about the weak power play. “When Michigan plays five games and only scores six goals, I can’t remember in my long-term memory that happening.”
In addition to ending their losing skid Saturday in Toledo with a 4-1 win, the Wolverines ended their drought on the power play this weekend. Junior center Louie Caporusso scored with the man advantage on Friday and freshman forward Chris Brown lit the lamp in Saturday’s third period.
“It was huge to get those goals,” junior forward Carl Hagelin said. “We haven’t been scoring lately on the power play or on the 5-on-5. It starts with the power play.”
Despite the team’s trouble scoring on the power play, a dominant penalty kill has kept Michigan’s special teams play relevant for much of the season, checking in at almost 90 percent after this weekend.
But it was two penalty-killing mistakes that doomed the Wolverines in their 4-2 loss in the weekend’s first game.
In the third period, senior defenseman Steve Kampfer took an ill-advised penalty to put Michigan on the wrong end of a 5-on-3. As a result, Bowling Green scored three goals, including two on the power play, in a span of just over two minutes.
Despite the poor performance with a man down on Friday, Michigan still retained its place as the top penalty kill in the conference and sixth best in the nation.
The weekend’s two power play goals may not have affected the final outcome of either game, but the momentum from both scores will do a great deal for a team that was lacking confidence on special teams and offense.
And for Caporusso, who tallied two assists in addition to his goal, it could be just enough to turn around his scoring woes this season.
Whatever the win does for the team’s confidence, Berenson is just relieved to see glimpses some of his expectations for the offense and special teams come to fruition over the weekend.
“We haven’t turned the corner,” Berenson said. “But we definitely stopped the bleeding.”