Sunday, December 16, 2012

Wolverines Earn Split with Western

Yeah, you're damn right I found a picture of Janecyk from last year! (Thanks, Bill!)
Photo: Bill Rapai
On Friday night, the Wolverines were again beaten on their home ice in front of a national-television audience as the Broncos took a 4-1 victory. Michigan got off to a good start, registering the first six shots of the game, and then generated next to nothing else over the next 40 minutes or so. The Broncos tallied 21 of the next 25 shots in the game and built a 3-0 lead on goals by Ben Warda, Luke Witkowski, and Justin Kovacs. The Wolverines would draw back within two on Phil Di Giuseppe's second of the year, but despite a 13-3 shot advantage in the third period, they were unable to get the puck past Frank Slubowski again. Dane Walters added an empty-netter to reach the final margin of victory.

One the Broncos' first goal, Steve Racine was screened in front by Brennan Serville and Kovacs, but Warda's shot trickled through his five-hole as he went down. Then with the Broncos on the power play, Witkowski snuck in front the right point and Racine got most of his shot from the middle of the ice, but it had enough juice to make it over the goal line. I think he'd probably want both of those goals back even if he didn't really see the first one. It'd hard to see something go five-hole when you're already down on the ice and not sliding in one direction or the other. 

In the second, just to show that there's plenty of blame to go around, the team completely hung Racine out on the third goal. WMU had the puck around their own blueline and a good 3-4 of the Wolverines went for a line change, leaving Chiasson back by his lonesome. He couldn't do anything to take the pass away as Western hit the late man and Kovacs deked his way around Racine. 

Di Giuseppe had a really nice goal to give the Wolverines some life. He won a battle in the corner, then circled back out by the left dot. They got the pass to him and he ripped one into the top part of the net. That one looked like it felt really good. They need to get PDG going again. 

The story of the game may have come in the first period when the Wolverines had a long 5-on-3 power play. Not only did they not score, they didn't generate a shot on goal. Not only did they not generate a shot on goal, but WMU had the best scoring chance. On a breakaway. By a defenseman. Haar made a nice read and got to a pass in the direction of the point man that wasn't nearly had enough. He chipped it by and was off to the races. Racine forced him to go wide and Haar hit the post. 

Racine did make a few nice saves in the game, and 3 goals on 28 shots (especially with 9 of them on WMU's high-powered PP) isn't bad. This team isn't good enough right now, though, to overcome many goals period, let alone soft ones.

Now, I don't get to say "I told you so" very often. It's exceedingly rare as a matter of fact. But I was firmly on the "Give Janecyk a shot" bandwagon from about the 6th game on. I'm well aware that Michigan's problems are a lot greater in number than just the goaltender(s). We've seen it too many times in the past, though, how a new goalie can spark a team (Hunwick coming in three years ago) or how sometimes a team will play in front of one guy and not another (Billy Sauer's senior year). It was clear something had to change. You had two freshmen struggling to stop pucks with a sluggish team in front of them. At the end of the bench, though, you had a guy who was really solid in two of his three appearances last season, who has at least shown that he can keep the team in the game on a given night (and who has a nice goaltending pedigree in the family--his dad played about 100 games in net in the NHL). It made sense to me that you should throw him in to see if he can spark something.

On Saturday night Adam Janecyk finally got that chance. He made his first start of the season and it went really well. The game wasn't televised (at least not in Wisconsin), but from the sound of it it was one of the best team games they've played the entire season. Janecyk was solid between the pipes, making 25 saves in a 2-0 win, earning the #1 star for his first career shutout. He quickly credited the team's play in front of him, but part of the team playing well is having a goalie making the saves that he should make, and Janecyk did at least that. 

After two scoreless periods, Brennan Serville got the Wolverines on the board with the first of his career, a shot up under the bar after Copp's initial shot was blocked. 

One of the hidden plays that doesn't really show up in the boxscore but was critical in the game: Trouba tried a wraparound but slipped coming around the net and the puck laid right out in front. WMU had a chance to clear the zone, but PDG picked Haar's pocket and kept it in. He was hooked, which put Michigan on the power play. Trouba would blast one home to give the Wolverines some breathing room. It was a nothing play but Di Giuseppe makes a nice play, turns it into a power play chance, and Michigan finally was able to capitalize. PDG showed up in the highlights on quite a few occasions this weekend. Maybe the goal he had on Friday night helps get him going again.

They were able to complete the shutout and head into the GLI being able to feel good about themselves. And maybe, just maybe, they found the spark that will start the turnaround. 

What I really loved seeing was the confidence expressed on Twitter after the game, and the number of guys who voiced their happiness for Janecyk. (I especially loved seeing Rutledge and Racine tweet support for him. Pure class all the way out of those two. That's being a great teammate even when your own seasons haven't gone the way you'd want them to.)

They'll be off for a couple of weeks again. The next game will be against a struggling Michigan Tech team in the GLI, and then they'll either get WMU again or FYS in the championship/consolation game. This is a very, very winnable tournament, though Michigan will be without Jacob Trouba (World Juniors). Win the GLI and it could spark something in the second half. 

Their room for error is completely gone and they may have to win the CCHA Tournament even with a great second half, but at least for one night there's hope. They needed something to go right for them, and getting solid goaltending and a full team effort in taking down one of the better teams in the country just may be it. It's probably expecting too much for lightning to strike twice and for Janecyk to turn into another Hunwick, but if he can stabilize the back-end, maybe they can get this season turned around. They've still got problems. The power play is 1 for their last 34. There are still plenty of guys not producing offensively like they need to. But if you keep the goals against down to 2 or so, you're going to be in the game most nights. It all starts on defense and they got that phase working against a good offensive team. 

There's still a long way to go in order to right the ship, but I'm not quite ready to write them off just yet. Friday I was close. I really thought Janecyk was the last hope to get it turned around and it looks like he'll have a shot.

In other news, I picked the winner in my Verizon Droid RAZR HD giveaway. After picking a couple of numbers for ineligible entries (one person didn't comment about the device itself and one was my comment), here was the winning number:

Congrats to Holly Marie on winning the RAZR and the $50 Verizon gift card. Be sure to let me know how you like it! Thanks again to Verizon for offering my readers this opportunity. That was a lot of fun.

Just a reminder: I have a relationship with Verizon through their Midwest Sports Blogger program. They've given me a couple of devices and service for five months in exchange for bringing my readers my honest opinions about the devices. Periodically I get to do fun things like giveaways as well!

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