Well a lot has changed since I published that "10 Things to Know" last weekend. Now we're talking about distractions, regrouping, penalties (again), blown points, second place, no games in hand, a lack of depth on the blue line, and a hole in the locker room.
The ties against Northern Michigan were kind of overshadowed by the dismissal of Kevin Quick. There's no sugarcoating it, it's a loss to this hockey team. As I said before, he wasn't great as of late, but he was playing on the top pairing for the #2 hockey team in the country. This is a huge opportunity for Tristin Llewellyn, and to his credit, it appears that he's running with it. I thought he played two strong games filling in for Scooter Vaughan against Spartina, and it sounded as if he played well Friday night (though it's hard enough making accurate judgments about players watching on TV, let alone listening to the game). The other silver lining is that it hopefully will lead to Brandon Burlon signing his LOI and becoming a Wolverine next season. Not that that helps this edition of the Michigan hockey team.
Friday's game was just a giant frustration. Missed opportunities, penalties and turnovers were the story of the night. The first NMU goal came off a turnover by Mark Mitera deep in our end. The second was a short-handed goal where the puck was knocked away from Langlais. And the tying goal for NMU came on a 5 on 3 when Turnbull and Mitera took penalties just a handful of seconds apart. In the meantime, Michigan put 44 shots on cage and managed just three goals. They had a power play for the final 1:56 of overtime, but couldn't put one past Brian Stewart.
It sounded as if the top line had a really strong game. They combined for 2 goals, 3 assists and 17 shots on goal. When they weren't notching goals, they were creating scoring chances. Early on in the game, they caused some havoc in the NMU end and Stewart made two excellent stops on Pacioretty and Langlais. Not more than a few minutes later, Kolarik had a short handed breakaway, which he was stoned on. It sounded as if in a few other cases, they had the right idea and the passes just weren't connecting.
Mitera struggled again. Mike Spath called it "potentially [his] worst game of the year". He has been a little off lately. Not to say that in most cases he's been bad or anything, but he's clearly not playing the way that he was at the start of the season. We need to get him back up around that level, where he was a potential/likely All-American. It's a grind, and it doesn't shock me he's had a couple down games--or that he had one Friday, considering his defense partner was kicked off the team earlier in the day. Whether that had anything to do with it, I don't know, but I highly doubt it helped.
A guy that seemed to have a very up-and-down game on Friday was Langlais. He had some very nice-sounding plays, a couple of good chances, and set up Michigan's second goal, but also had a turnover that led to NMU's second goal and a couple of others that he got away with.
Saturday night was equally disappointing. Michigan led a two-goal lead slip away and failed to get the victory, despite yet another late power play. Hagelin, Caporusso and Kolarik tallied goals, but it wasn't enough. Hagelin's goal was off a nice breakout. Mitera fed Palushaj who sprung the Swede on a partial breakaway. Caporusso's goal was a vicious wrister off a cross-ice feed from Mitera. Kolarik's goal was off a lot of hard work from Kevin Porter and Max Pacioretty to retain control of the puck. Porter won the puck in the corner and Patch was able to use his size to fend off a defender and leave the puck for Chad.
Bryan Hogan got the start and wasn't great--he gave up a goal on a wrist shot from center ice--but it sounded as if Red was happy with his play overall.
Tim Miller couldn't be more snakebitten. He had literally 99% of the net to shoot at after a shot deflected onto his stick and he somehow put it over the cross-bar. He's getting frustrated--nearly shattered his stick on the way back to the bench--and it's hard not to feel for the kid. I haven't played hockey for very long, but it's amazing how sometimes the puck just won't go in the back of the net no matter what you do. I have no doubt that if he could just get one, he'd become a dangerous guy on the offensive end, but it seems like this is just multiplying. He's not going to get a whole lot of chances like the ones he missed against MSU in OT and NMU the last two weekends. The good news, however, is that he is getting chances--and we haven't always been able to say that this year.
Caporusso had a few chances to win it in regulation and he just couldn't find the handle on what would've been his best chance. Hagelin had a couple of chances in OT as well. He got stopped streaking in on the left wing off a tip from Miller, and he was simply unlucky on the rebound. He was behind the net, Stewart was out of position having just made the stop, and Hagelin tried to throw the puck off him and into the net. Had he hit Stewart's right pad, it probably would've worked, but the puck went five-hole and out into the slot.