Sorry about the lack of posting this week. I've been back in Michigan doing family stuff and didn't have nearly as much time to screw around writing second half previews as I thought. I hope everyone has had a great holiday.
We begin the second half of the season in a few hours, with the Wolverines competing in the 43rd Great Lakes Invitational, a tournament that they once dominated, but haven't won since 1996. They come into this tournament short-handed, missing Matt Rust, Chris Summers, Max Pacioretty, and Carl Hagelin who are off competing in the World Junior Championships. They will, however, get Louie Caporusso back from injury, which should help somewhat.
The first opponent is the Providence Friars, who come into today's game in sixth place in that jumble of teams that is Hockey East. They're in sixth place, but are just 3 points out of first place, and have at least one game--and as many as three--in hand over every team in front of them. They're 6-6-2 overall and 4-3-2 in conference. But they've been playing good hockey, having won 3 in a row to get back to .500 for the first time after starting 0-4-0. They've beaten UMass, Vermont, Brown, Union, and swept Maine. The losses came against BU, St. Lawrence, Clarkson, Northeastern, Holy Cross, and New Hampshire.
On paper, this is a team we should beat. But then I look at the stats and see a goalie in Tyler Sims with a 2.16, .917--but still only has a 5-5-1 record--and it makes me think that he's probably the type of goalie that can get hot and cause a team fits. Especially a team missing three--or arguably four, depending what position Chris Summers is actually supposed to be playing--really good forwards. He's given up just two goals in his last three games, and 11 in his last seven.
They've got three guys averaging a point a game--and two more who are right around that mark--and are led in scoring by an awful lot of upper-classmen. Their top freshman only has five points.
16 of their 45 goals have come with the man-advantage--and they convert at almost a 25% rate. They also kill penalties very well (86.9%). They've also got 6 shorties this year, so for the season as a whole, they're only -2 in terms of goal differential when they're killing penalties. That's outstanding. Michigan is -8.
I'm not overly scared of this game, but Providence does seem to have the potential to make life difficult on us--and get out of there with a win if Michigan doesn't bring it. I fully expect to see these Wolverines playing for the Championship tomorrow, though.
I've said it before, I'll say it again: I think things set up pretty well for us this year. Even with those four guys gone, we've got our two best forwards, all our defensemen, our goalie, and 4/5ths of our top power play unit. I'm looking forward to seeing Caporusso back in the lineup. Even though our record has been great with him out, I think we did miss him quite a bit. I'd expect that once everyone comes back, we'll see better performances out of guys like Miller and Turnbull--and even Hagelin who got quiet for a little while after a hot start.
Brandon Naurato will be getting a chance on the top line today. What an opportunity for that kid! His numbers are clearly down this year, but he'll get a chance today to prove that he should be an every day player in the second half of the year. Porter and Kolarik will be able to set him up for some nice opportunities, and he needs to make the most of them with his great shot.
I'll be down at the Joe today, but I'm heading back to Wisconsin tomorrow, so I'll miss our game (hopefully the Championship) tomorrow. Fox Sports is showing it on tape delay at like 12:30 am, so I should be back in time to catch the telecast, if we're playing, and do a live-tape-delay blog for it. If my laptop turns on.
One last bit of news: Mark Mitera will now be wearing the "A" instead of Tim Miller. They've said that it was a way of rewarding Mitera, not punishing Miller. Berenson expressed concern that Miller may have been worrying too much about being a captain and it was hurting his game--which, given the start he's had, might not be far-fetched. We've seen the way that wearing a letter has helped Kolarik, but it might be working the opposite way for Miller. Mitera deserves it for the way he has played.