If the Michigan hockey team could consistently score shootout goals, it would be in sole possession of fourth place in the CCHA, instead of seventh.
You know what the difference between fourth and seventh is? A bye in the first round of the CCHA tournament, and an almost-guaranteed berth in the NCAA Tournament.
And Michigan might miss out — all because nobody can score a one-on-one goal.
The Wolverines failed to convert on their last five shootout opportunities on Saturday, losing to Lake Superior State, 2-2.
Michigan has lost its last three shootout games, after earning the program’s first-ever shootout win in October at Northern Michigan, but it’s the way those losses are coming that’s concerning.
Michigan has converted just two out of 15 shootout attempts this season, not taking advantage of a rule that would seemingly help the Wolverines.
In 2008, the CCHA became the first conference in college hockey to institute a post-overtime shootout, granting the winner two points in the standings and the loser one.
Michigan coach Red Berenson and the rest of the league thought Michigan was going to benefit from this rule change, but after three years, the Wolverines have been the opposite of beneficiaries.
“When they put the rule in, they thought Michigan would have the advantage,” Berenson said. “We’ve been the worst team in the league on shootouts.”
On Saturday, Michigan started the overtime period looking to score — with sophomore goaltender Adam Janecyk making his first start of his career, Michigan didn’t want the game to be decided by a shootout.
The puck spent most of the five overtime minutes in the Lakers’ end of the ice, but the Wolverines’ sense of urgency wasn’t rewarded.
Sophomore forward Luke Moffatt made the first shootout attempt look easy, faking right then left before flipping the puck into the top right corner to give Michigan the early advantage.
Janecyk made the first two saves, but then ceded the tying shot on the third and final attempt, sending the shootout into sudden death. After Moffatt, the next five Wolverines couldn’t convert.
Janecyk finally let in the winning goal on Lake Superior State’s sixth attempt, but he shouldn’t shoulder any of the blame for the shootout loss.
The Wolverine skaters looked legitimately lost in the shootout. Junior forward Chris Brown missed the top post by about four feet, and junior forward A.J. Treais didn’t even get a shot off, losing the puck while he was skating up the ice.
“It’s frustrating when we don’t hit the net on a shootout,” Berenson said. “You put your top guys out there and they can’t hit the net or find the puck. That’s a big point on the line.”
The weekend wasn’t a total loss since the team won in regulation on Friday night, but getting only four out of six points the rest of the season won’t cut it for a seventh-place team.
For a team with as much talent as Michigan, the shootout shouldn’t be this perplexing. It could be a lack of mental confidence, or it could be a lack of experience.
Whatever the reason, it’s a part of the game holding Michigan back, and a part of the game that is a concern for the Wolverines.
“I can’t say that tonight is a step forward for us,” said senior forward Luke Glendening. “We threw that one away.
“We have to have those games — to give that one away hurts. To be so close, it’s really frustrating.”