Since starting the season by killing 10 straight penalties in its first three games, the Michigan hockey team’s penalty-kill unit hadn’t been terrific, but not abysmal either entering this weekend’s series against Alaska.
That wasn’t the case this weekend though, when the Nanooks swept the Wolverines at Yost Ice Arena. During Friday night’s contest, the penalty kill allowed one Nanook power-play goal on three attempts. A night later, when Michigan was facing a potentially devastating home sweep, the penalty kill was even more lackluster.
In Saturday night’s first period alone, Michigan was whistled for three penalties and allowed two power-play goals.
“Our power play finally scored a goal, but theirs scored two,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “We were beaten on special teams both nights. Everybody in our lineup is on special teams. Either on the power-play unit, first unit or second unit, or they are on the (penalty kill). They are just not getting it done.”
Alaska, which came into the weekend with just the eighth-ranked power play in the conference, capitalized on the Wolverines’ inability to clear and maintain the puck. Freshman goalie Steve Racine and junior goalie Adam Janecyk, who each started one game, were peppered with shot after shot, and it became just a matter of time before one of them would find the back of the net.
And the penalty kill wasn’t the only problem area for the special teams — the power play was equally ineffective. On Friday night, the unit went 0-for-4 and rarely got possession of the puck deep enough in the Nanooks’ zone to set up the power play. The unit also hurt the Wolverines when it allowed a shorthanded goal in the third period that completely turned the tide of the game and sealed Michigan’s fate.
“Whether they score (goals) five-on-five, and the one case it was shorthanded,” Berenson said on Friday. “We just stepped out on the ice and they scored. We give up a power-play goal — a good goal, sure.”
Saturday night saw a flurry of penalties by both teams, and Michigan found itself on the power play eight times. Though freshman defenseman Jacob Trouba scored his fifth power-play goal of the year during the second period, the unit as a whole didn’t have very much rhythm.
The Wolverines are third worst in the conference with the man advantage, and they committed basic mistakes such as poor puck handling and passing and the inability to control easy passes. Berenson noted that special teams was a problem during Friday night’s 4-3 loss, and the struggles were even more apparent during Saturday’s contest.
Whether it was officiating or just lack of focus, Michigan finished Saturday night having taken seven penalties. A couple of the calls were questionable, but Michigan has proved it’s not skilled enough to recover from that many penalties. Trouba, one of Michigan’s most physical defenseman, was guilty of three penalties. Berenson said that Trouba’s history of aggressive play might contribute to the amount of penalties the referees call him for.
“I think a player can be pinpointed,” he said. “I don’t know if referees do it, but it seems like they do. They look at a team’s stats and say ‘Oh, this guy has the most penalties, we need to watch him.’ Is what he does a penalty every time? No.”