EAST LANSING — As Michigan hockey fans took their seats in Yost Ice Arena on Friday, they figured a home win over rival Michigan State would speed up the Wolverines’ slow start this season. After all, Michigan had beaten the Spartans six straight times.
Instead, a 3-2 loss, followed by a 2-0 defeat at Munn Ice Arena on Saturday, only added to the early-season doldrums. Michigan has now lost four straight games.
“The only barometer we have is the games,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “I would’ve told you that we would have been better this weekend. Were we in some areas? Yeah. But as far as the whole package, good enough to win, good enough to beat a top 10 team — no.”
Michigan’s losses overshadowed the return of Spartan forward Corey Tropp to Yost Ice Arena after his on-ice assault last season on senior defenseman Steve Kampfer earned Tropp a suspension for the rest of the year. Last season, Kampfer was knocked down on a cheap shot late in the game, and Tropp came and slashed Kampfer in the head region while the defenseman was motionless on the ice.
While the Children of Yost booed Tropp every time he touched the puck, it didn’t stop the CCHA’s third-leading scorer from beating Kampfer one-on-one with a toe-drag and a wrist shot over junior goaltender Bryan Hogan’s shoulder. The goal was the Spartans’ second of the night.
“At Michigan, that’s a really tough situation for a young kid to handle,” Michigan State coach Rick Comley said. “I thought their crowd was fine, though. … I thought both teams kind of let it go, and it was a non-incident.”
Perhaps the crowd should have saved its boos for the Wolverine power play. The unit failed to score in either game this weekend. After starting the season 4-for-8 with the extra-man advantage, it has scored just three goals on its last 49 chances.
Trailing 2-0, Michigan had four-and-a-half minutes with the man advantage in Saturday’s third period. The Wolverines worked the puck around the perimeter and kept the pressure going in the offensive zone, something they failed to do in other power plays, but Michigan State shut down the middle and cleared the rebounds with the man advantage. Of those potentially game-changing chances, the Wolverines generated just two shots.
“It’s just execution,” Kampfer said. “Coach (Berenson) has given us a very simple plan to go out there with. … I think we need to get shots through and start crashing the net.”
The power play is just a small part of Michigan’s early-season offensive woes. The Wolverines’ goals on the weekend came from junior Carl Hagelin, one of the few players consistently scoring points, and freshman defenseman Lee Moffie, who has been in and out of the lineup.
Despite facing 31 shots Saturday, Spartan goaltender Drew Palmisano was rarely forced to make anything more than a routine save in his second career shutout. A little bit of bad luck and a lot of missed chances have resulted in just four Michigan goals in its last four games.
While the Wolverines have a chance to find their scoring touch next weekend in a home-and-home against Bowling Green, the conference’s second-worst defensive team, the series could end up being a lot more complicated.
“We’re not that good,” Berenson said. “We’ve got one returning 20-goal scorer, and he’s got one goal, and outside of that, everybody else – they’re doing what they can, but we don’t have a lot of prolific offensive players.”