Much, much better.
As they did with Miami during the Friday night game a couple of weeks ago, Michigan blitzed their opponent in the first period, scoring three goals in the opening stanza to take a commanding lead into the intermission. MSU was able to pull back within one, but Pacioretty's goal late in the second period pretty much sealed the deal.
First and foremost, I feel as good for Tim Miller as I do about the win. Miller has always been one of my favorites on this team and it was nice to see him finally get pot one. In the past, I've always disagreed with people who have believed that you have to play the game to comment on it. I still do disagree, but one thing that I have learned since I've been playing hockey is just how frustrating it can be to go through a huge scoring drought. And when it finally ends, sometimes it can really help your play for the next few weeks. It really wouldn't shock me if the old Tim Miller is back for the rest of the season now, and that's a big boost to this team. I doubt he matches last year's goal total (7), but if we make a deep run into the tournament, I bet he approaches it.
Next up, Carl Hagelin. He didn't get an assist on it because he didn't touch the puck, but--much like Caporusso's goal against LSSU which couldn't have been scored without Turnbull pinning a Laker's stick on the faceoff--Palushaj's goal was completely set up by Hagelin's forecheck. He came flying in there, forced the turnover--which went right onto Palushaj's stick--and Pal buried it. I wish they could award assists on a play like that. Just another great example of why stats don't always tell the whole story.
Chris Summers, whose availability was in doubt after an injury Friday night, set the tone early with a huge hit on the first shift of the game. Without watching the tape again, I thought Summers played a really good game Saturday night. He was a team-high +3, so I imagine that's a pretty accurate statement.
Brandon Naurato had a huge goal late in the first period. It was on a power play thanks to an absolutely moronic penalty by Justin Abdelkader (who played like an idiot all weekend) and Michigan made him pay. Naurato tied for the team lead with seven shots on goal, and he made that one count.
The goal that clinched it was a beautiful Tomas Holmstrom-style tip in by Max Pacioretty. Mitera got one to the net, and Pacioretty tipped it up over Lerg's glove very late in the second.
No doubt MSU fans are going to be less than thrilled with Steve McInchak about the four straight power plays that Michigan got, but those were legit calls. Kennedy bumped Sauer and put both hands up into his mask and pushed him down. Abdelkader plowed Sauer. Sprague' s boarding call was a no-brainer, but it took the AR at center ice to call it. All three of those were dumb dumb dumb. MSU was playing stupid hockey for a lot of that game. And to be fair, McInchak also let a couple of blatant penalties go during Michigan power plays that would've put us up two men. I can remember a cross-check in the back in the middle of the offensive zone, as well as one of our players getting hog-tied around the boards. And the call on Llewellyn that led to MSU's second goal was on the weak side. I'll probably end up reviewing the calls again if I do the "Going Upstairs" feature this week, but I don't see much of a case to be upset about Saturday night's officiating.
Sauer made 26 saves and couldn't be faulted on the second MSU goal. That shot hit him in the mask and deflected right into the slot. Not much he could've done on that one. The first goal was one you'd like to see stopped. I know it's tough when the player shoots with his back to the goalie, but an unscreened backhand from outside the hash marks? You'd probably like that one back. Especially in a 3-0 hockey game. That goal gave MSU some life and they got back into the game with a PPG a couple minutes later.
Also, Mitera was much, much better Saturday night than he was on Friday night. Maybe he's still adjusting to his leadership responsibilities with being a captain--which have probably increased with Kolarik out? I have every confidence that he'll get back to being Mark Mitera before the tournament.
By the way, it was also nice to see Chad Kolarik in the Charlie Conway role, behind the bench Saturday night. I love that move. It's pretty well documented that he's a vocal leader, so why not put him behind the bench?
The win eliminates MSU from contention in the CCHA and means that Michigan needs just two points next weekend against Ferris State to clinch the CCHA title.