Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Going Upstairs: Michigan vs. Niagara

The first of three "Going Upstairs" features this week will be a review of Michigan's 5-1 win over the Niagara Purple Eagles.

Five minutes into the game and nothing much has happened. The teams were clearly feeling each other out in the early going. Niagara had four men back (minimum) in most cases and Michigan seemed to be concerned first-and-foremost with getting the puck out of their zone rather than looking for breakouts.

The first great chance came when Ryan Annesley shot the puck around the boards and Kampfer held it in at the right point. He let the shot go, Louis Caporusso was able to deflect it, and Pagliero made a nice stop. Winnett rushed to the left post to try and force a bad pass by the defenseman who was looking to clear, and both Caporusso and Turnbull were in front of the net. A Niagara player picked up the puck by the left half-boards and it led to a 3 on 2 the other way. Rocco tried to feed it to the late man since Mitera had the right wing covered. Kampfer got his stick into the passing lane and broke it up, though it still got through to Caruana. Caruana made a nice play to tip the bouncing puck down to the right wing just as Mitera stepped up to level him (that was Mitera's second huge hit of the game). Rogers had the puck slide to him by Sauer's left, but Kampfer was able to get over and negate any possible scoring chance. Very well played by Kampfer on two occasions there.

The first penalty of the hockey game was a dumb play by Chris Summers. He got hit by Rogers and Caruana by the Michigan blueline. The hit by Caruana was slightly questionable but probably didn't warrant a call (watching live, I thought Summers got punched in the face, but it doesn't look like Caruana actually made contact). Summers went right after Rogers, got his hands up into Rogers's head, and the call was made. Can't argue with that one, and not the type of play you need to make in a tournament game against the #3 PP in the country.

Mitera had a beautiful stick-check on a shot by Rogers, and then hacked him on the calf after Rogers fell. Could've put us down two men--and down our two best defensemen to boot--but luckily it wasn't called.

A great passing play between Palushaj and Caporusso led to a great opportunity for Michigan just past the halfway mark of the first period. Palushaj threw a no-look, behind-the-back pass to Caporusso who was streaking into the offensive zone. Louie went to the outside around the defenseman, got the goalie down, went around the net, but blew a tire as he was trying to pull off a wrap-around. Even with the stumble, he still nearly banked the puck into the net. Luckily, Palushaj wouldn't have the same experience a night later. As Caporusso entered the zone, Foam shot a piece of a broken stick at Caporusso's skates/the puck. Probably should've been an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty there.

Hagelin and Palushaj broke away on a 2 on 1 with just over six minutes left in the first period. Haczyk tried to go back to Foam at the point and the puck got into his skates, where Palushaj poked it away. Niagara was actually very lucky that this wasn't a breakaway. I'm not sure where the second defenseman was while Niagara had possession but he had to be almost at center ice. Either they were working the mother of all traps, or he just jumped onto the ice. Anyway, Hagalin worked a nifty give and go with Palushaj but the puck rolled and Hagelin didn't get a ton onto the shot that he tried to send five-hole.

Langdon was sent off for tripping after he kind of accidentally slew-footed Porter. He came in for a big hit, but his leg clipped Porter's and it sent Hobey to the ice. Good call, even if it was a bit late since the official fell down behind the net. When he blew the whistle, Michigan had the puck and there was a split second of sheer rage out of me before I realized it was on the Purple Eagles (and why it took so long to call).

Kolarik and Palushaj worked the little Cammalleri-Shouneyia cycle before the puck got fed to Pacioretty in the slot for a one-timer. It seems like Michigan has been going to that play more and more lately, since teams have been doing a better job of taking away Porter at the point. A guy like Pacioretty is a pretty nice second-option. And if teams start keying on Pacioretty in the slot, the Kolarik can just curl into some open space and let his wrister go.

Caruana got whistled for boarding late in the first period. Pretty straight-forward. He hit Kampfer from behind into the boards. It looked worse than it probably was since Kampfer fell shoulder-first (and just got his head out of the way). Definitely a penalty, correct to only be two minutes.

This was the call that kind of pissed me off, but it didn't end up having an effect on the game. Pacioretty tried to split two guys and was hauled down by Rocco. The ref called a penalty on the play, but blew the whistle even though Porter and Kolarik just went and got the puck. Definitely a mistake to blow the whistle, but the Wolverines got a brief 5 on 3 and ended up scoring at the start of the second period once it went back to 5 on 4.

The first period ended with the score 0-0, but the Purple Eagles never really mounted much of an offensive attack. Michigan had a couple of odd-man rushes and a nice looking power play, even though they had nothing to show for it. The Wolverines were slightly off on their breakout passes, but the good thing was that there were just three occasions during the entire period where Michigan failed to clear the puck after gaining possession in their own end. None of those three turnovers resulted in a shot on goal even (and on one, Michigan immediately regained possession and cleared it).

During the intermission, they showed highlights of the ND/UNH game (which was 4-3 at this point), so I might as well recap the ways that the teams scored, since it's semi-relevant. UNH got on the board first, by crashing the net, getting traffic in front, and pouncing on a rebound. ND scored back-to-back goals on cross-crease passes, and their third tally was just a bad, bad rebound left by Regan. #4 was a terrible defensive breakdown and a soft goal, but a great move by Kissel to escape from the boards, where he was pinned in. New Hampshire scored once again by shooting through traffic. One UNH goal wasn't shown.

The second period got underway and the Wolverines jumped out front right away. Kolarik and Palushaj cycled and created a chance as the defenseman left the front of the net to shadow Pacioretty and Kolarik walked out of the corner untouched because of it. The play reset, and this time the defense left Pacioretty open, Kolarik one-touched Palushaj's pass to Pacioretty in the slot and he buried it. Nice goal, and a nice job setting it up earlier in the power play.

Rust hooked a Niagara player on the next shift. Probably an unnecessary penalty. Michigan had two men back, it was kind of a nothing play, and Rust hooked him on the back-check.

Michigan did a nice job once again on the penalty kill. They were able to ice the puck every single time that they tried and the only chance Niagara was able to muster came off a broken play when Cook ended up with the puck in the slot. For some reason, he tried to feed a teammate to Sauer's right even though he was in prime shooting position.

Langlais got his stick into a passing lane and broke up a potential 3 on 2, and it would have created a 3 on 2 the other way but the Wolverines couldn't control the puck.

With about 5 minutes gone in the second period, the Wolverines had a golden opportunity. Tim Miller stole the puck, fed it off to Palushaj and went to the net. Briefly, it looked as if Niagara was going to take possession and all five players started working their way out of the zone. The puck stayed in, however, and Pacioretty was able to knock it through to Miller who was all alone at the top of the crease. He put a back-hander high, tried to go five-hole on the rebound (which juuuust missed working), and got another pop at it before Niagara finally cleared. At this point, Michigan had taken 16 straight shots on goal and hadn't allowed a shot in about 20 minutes of play.

Another fancy passing play by our top line resulted in goal #2 on the night. After Kampfer dove to knock the puck out to Pacioretty at center ice, Patch and Porter skated into the zone. Pacioretty dropped it for the late man, Kolarik, and Porter went to the net. No one went with him and Kolarik was able to get a pass through the defenseman to Porter. He pulled it to his backhand, got Pagliero to open his legs, and he slipped it through.

Niagara finally got a weak shot through to Sauer. It was their first in approximately 24 minutes.

"Your best players have to be your best players" count! 1, 2, 3, 4, 5! We want mooooooooore cliches! That was the line of the weekend. I think I heard it at least 3 times during every game I watched.

The top line nearly struck again. Kolarik stole the puck by the top of the right circle. He sent it to the middle of the ice to Pacioretty who one-touched it down to Porter by the left post. Porter sent it right back to Patch, who wasn't ready for it. He just missed getting a stick on it, and if he had it was going in the net. I don't think he expected to get the puck back, but it was a great idea by Porter. He didn't have much to shoot at and if the pass connected, Pacioretty would've had an open 6x4.

Michigan had another great scoring chance off a turnover in the Niagara end. Caporusso took the puck by the post to the left of Pagliero and very quickly jumped in front of the net and tried to tuck it far side. Pagliero was able to make the save. The biggest difference in the game (apart from the clear discrepancies in team speed and talent) is that Michigan hasn't turned the puck over in their own end and Niagara has. To this point in the game, there have been just 5 occasions where the Wolverines didn't get the puck out on the first try after gaining possession and none of the "failures" have resulted in anything even resembling a scoring chance, let alone a shot on goal.

Sauer made his biggest stop of the night thusfar. Niagara won a neutral-zone faceoff and brought the puck into the zone. They sent it through to the middle of the ice where it pinballed off a couple of players and bounced right to Ross, who was just inside the top of the circle. Ross didn't get as much as he wanted on the shot, but it was still a big save by a guy who had faced just seven shots in 34 minutes to that point.

It was at this point that ESPNU switched out to the UNH/ND game, so there's a gap here where I don't know what happens. When I speak about a lack of turnovers, it is possible I missed a couple, but based on the way this game went, I kind of doubt it. Speaking of, there was a bad one by Llewellyn. Lazily tried to chip the puck up to Porter but he sent it right to Haczyk. Haczyk tried to feed his guy back-post, but the pass didn't connect. That was the first time Niagara got anything off a Michigan turnover in their own end.

There was another failed clear that resulted in a couple of shots for Niagara. Nothing major.

FTR, Notre Dame's fifth goal (and their last that wasn't an empty-netter) was off a turnover when UNH pushed the puck right into their own slot for ND to bury. That was rather thoughtful of them. Needless to say, I don't think UNH played very well in that game. Notre Dame appeared to be very opportunistic with their chances.

Shots on goal to this point are 30-9 in favor of Michigan, with scoring chances 9-1. They've got Michigan as having 4 defensive zone turnovers. Probably about right. There have been 8 instances where Michigan didn't get the puck out on the first try, but Michigan regained control very quickly on three of those. Only one of the turnovers has resulted in a shot for the Purple Eagles.

Rust got hit knee-to-knee. It looked minor, but he had some trouble getting up. It just goes to show what a gamer that kid is. He's clearly in some pain, but the way he's skating you would never know he's got a broken leg.

Michigan has been a lot more sloppy in the early going this period. They've had trouble clearing on at least three occasions. Nothing of note came of it, but they haven't been as good at getting the puck out as they were in the first two periods. There's another one.

Another reason Michigan is winning? How many times have I typed Cook's name tonight? I believe I've only seen him one time--when he passed up a great chance for a shot from the slot. Remember, your best players have to be your best players.

Niagara just got their best chance of the hockey game off a turnover by Palushaj, who has otherwise been excellent tonight. He tried to flip a pass to Fardig, I believe, in the middle of the ice, but it hopped over Fardig's stick and Haczyk intercepted. He lasered one on net and Sauer stopped it, no rebound. I don't think Niagara has gotten a shot off a rebound tonight. I know there hasn't been one on their two best chances. Huge save in a 2-0 game.

And as Wayne Larrivee would say, "There's! Your! Dagger!" Kolarik was tripped as he brought the puck into the zone, but somehow jumped back to his feet and controlled the puck enough to knock it back to Llewellyn at the point. Llewellyn let the shot go, Kolarik dug the rebound loose and it went right onto the stick of Porter, who had it on his backhand. Pagliero was out of position after going down to stop the original shot, and Hobey made no mistake.

Zanette was called for a penalty while we were away at break. No comment on if the call was legit.

The fourth goal just wasn't nice at all. Kolarik brought the puck in and sent it back to the point. Langlais went for Porter, who threw it cross-ice to Palusahj. Palushaj went back down low for Kolarik, who spotted Porter sneaking in back-door and put a pass on his tape for the easy one-timer. What set this goal up was the work these guys had done on earlier power plays. Pacioretty went right into the slot and drew both the left wing and left defenseman to him. That opened the door for Porter to sneak in untouched. Eww.

Hagelin got called for roughing. I think the penalty occured after the players went out of the frame. He kind of dumped his man, but I don't see any way that could've been called CTH roughing. Another player came in and face-washed him, so I assume Hagelin retaliated.

Rogers was called for a penalty during the power play. Again, it was out of the frame. I'm not sure what was called.

Pacioretty's shot is ridiculous. He uncorked one right there that Pagliero stopped, but it was an absolute rocket from the top of the circle. Enjoy him while he's here. As was the case with Johnson, I would be perfectly content to get one more year out of him. He has a chance to be a really, really special player--in college and at the next level, IMO. The Canadiens have got to be salivating.

Niagara finally cracked Sauer with about 4 minutes remaining. Niagara was able to hold the puck in at the left point. They sent it back down low and tried to feed a pass into the middle of the ice. The intended recipient was taken out, but it hit a skate and went right onto Caruana's stick. He back-handed a shot through Sauer. Sauer got out to the top of his crease and got square to the shooter. It just kind of snuck through him.

Niagara nearly got back within two with the goalie out. Kolarik tried to wrap the puck behind Michigan's net but he passed it right to a Niagara player, who sent it right back out to the post to Sauer's right. Niagara one-timed the pass and it sounded as if it hit the goal post.

After Porter broke up a clearing attempt, he had an easy tap-in into the empty net for his fourth of the night. Game over.

Michigan really did a great job in their own end for most of the game. Once it got out of hand, they got a little bit sloppy, but by and large, they were fantastic about getting the puck out of the zone. The break-out passing wasn't great but they seemed to almost always make the safe play, which is probably smart against a team that you're supposed to beat.

I thought Chad Langlais and Tristin Llewellyn (one bad turnover aside) both played excellent games. They each had very active sticks and broke up a couple of potential rushes. Kampfer also was strong. Really, the whole defense was.

Palushaj was very visible out there. He was his typically excellent self about passing the puck. He was part of a top power play unit that had a wonderful night. They scored a pair of goals and were creating chances pretty much every time we had a man advantage. They came at Niagara in a bunch of different ways, all created by Kolarik and Palushaj cycling. It opened up Pacioretty in the slot, Porter back-door, and Kolarik's ability to walk the puck out of the corner. It's a lot less one-dimensional now that it seems like they're running the power play from down low rather than having Langlais and Porter play catch until something opened up.

Even when they weren't running Niagara's show on the top power play unit, Michigan's top line was getting scoring chances whenever they were out there. Porter, Kolarik, and Pacioretty nearly outshot the Niagara team as a whole (17-14 Niagara).

The penalty killing was absolutely fantastic. Niagara had three power-plays in the game but didn't register a single shot on goal. Great job against a top power play unit.

Sauer was good. He wasn't tested all that often, but he made two big stops while the game was still in doubt. The goal he allowed wasn't the best goal I've ever seen, but he controlled his rebounds well and made the stops he needed to make.

I give Niagara credit. They hung in there for a long time even though they were completely overmatched. Michigan was in control the entire game, even though it took them awhile to clinch the victory. It was simply a great effort out of the best team in the country.

The officiating was great. Made the calls that needed to be made. It wasn't a complete parade of guys to the box. He allowed there to actually be some flow to the game, and he didn't start reffing the score once Michigan got up by a few goals. I was very happy with Chip McDonald, out of the ECAC. I'd be perfectly happy seeing him in Denver.

Other Stuff:
MGoBlog had a great review of how we got to this point. I'm with him about Hensick not being part of the problem. He may not be the leader that Porter or Kolarik are, but he worked his butt off last season and turned himself into a complete player. I also think Johnson probably helped the on-ice product more than he hurt (he had 16 goals and the second-best +/- on the team last year--all our defensemen combined this year have eight goals). The chemistry of this team has been a big reason why they are as good as they are, and a couple guys on the team have alluded to the fact that they're happy he's gone, but I still think he'd make this team even more dangerous. Especially if they paired him with one of our several young stay-at-home guys.

I also think I had a slight seizure when I read this bit:
Jason Dest blatantly crosschecks a guy to the ice while killing a penalty, drawing another penalty. Dest throws his arms in the air, disgusted. The guy he's crosschecked to the ice gets up and, unchecked, taps in a goal.
I don't remember my exact reaction to that play, but it was one of the absolute dumbest things I've ever seen a hockey player do. He completely stopped playing. I'm fairly confident I cursed like a sailor.

Mike Spath revealed a possible reason for Kolarik's shift in attitude this season.

Also, Red Berenson is a finalist for the Spencer Penrose Award for College Hockey Coach of the Year. Guy Gadowsky, Dave Hakstol, Jeff Jackson, Troy Jutting, Brian Riley, Tom Serratore, Kevin Sneddon, and Jerry York are the other finalists. If you're counting, that's over 15% of the coaches in the NCAA. Gadowsky is the only other finalist who I would even give a chance to. Jutting, Riley, Serratore, and Sneddon's teams didn't make the tournament. Jackson's team sucked for a good portion of the season. Hakstol flipped off a ref so he's DQ'ed under the Hensick Rule. And it's no shocker that BC made the Frozen Four. Taking a Princeton team projected to finish 8th in the ECAC to the tournament is a pretty nice accomplishment. I have to believe Red is finally rewarded for his work with a team that was picked to finish 4th in the CCHA but was #1 in the nation for much of the year.

Next up: A review of our game against Clarkson in the East Regional Final.

Edit: Clarity in the Johnson/Hensick section. Added the section about the Penrose Award.

No comments: