Photo Credit: Bill Rapai
The Wolverines haven't won consecutive games since the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th games of the year and they've won just 4 of the past 18. The offense has plummeted to 28th (2.77 goals again) and now sits just five slots above Penn State. Let's put that one in perspective before we move on. Last year, the Wolverines scored 132 goals, which was the lowest total of my lifetime. They averaged 3.22 goals per game. We're almost a half a goal per game below that right now.
The defense is 54th out of 59. The only teams worse defensively are RIT, Colorado College (!), American, Alabama-Huntsville, and Sacred Heart (who is a full goal worse than UAH). They're giving up 3.5 goals per game, which, you could shave a goal per game off of that and still barely crack the top 20 nationally.
The power play is dreadful. Last year's 14.7% was bad. This year? They're sitting at 12.9%, but if you factor in the 4 shorties they've given up, you're really talking an effective percentage of more like 8.6%. Trouba has 5 of the 12 goals. The penalty kill looks sparkling in comparison. That's at 82.0% (or 84.3% with the shorties factored in), 36th in the country.
It's just been a dismal season. We all know it. Red used the word "fragile" to describe his team, and I'm actually kind of disappointed that I haven't used that one in any of my stories because it really is the perfect word. They have strong stretches of play at times and then something bad happens and they fold. How many times this season have we seen them give up 3 or 4 goals in a period? They just don't respond well to adversity, guys are letting frustration get to them (you saw that with penalties Moffie, Guptill, and Lynch have taken in the recent past) and it's snowballing on the guys who are struggling to put the puck in the net. (Apparently Guptill missed a couple of empty nets this weekend, though he did score one.)
Red said they were focusing on defense, and they still managed to give up 14 goals this week (in 3 games) and change goalies twice. Nothing's getting through. I don't doubt that anyone out there wants to get this fixed more than the players and coaches. At this point, I'd just be satisfied with them saying "We don't have the answers, but no one is outworking us", committing to that, and seeing if that makes a difference. It's not always a lack of effort when a team loses (or is blown out), but the effort has been lacking several times this year. And that's a pride thing. Even when you're in a slump you can still skate hard, complete checks, and forecheck/backcheck like a mofo. You can show up and get beat, but there's no excuse to get outworked. I'm not saying that was the case against Alaska as I didn't see either game, but it was the case against Bowling Green.
To the carnage of the Alaska series:
The Nanooks got on the board first when Merrill fanned on a slapshot. Alaska came back 3 on 2 and the pass got through to Odegard for a tap-in. They took a 2-0 lead when Guptill's drop pass for DeBlois was intercepted. That led to another odd-man rush, but Matthew Friese took it himself and sniped one top corner from the top of the circles for his first of the year.
Copp responded the way you'd want Michigan to respond, drawing the Wolverines back within one just 15 seconds later. Kevin Lynch got a puck to the net and Copp chipped a rebound up over the Alaska goaltender.
Guptill tied the game thanks to some patience by Derek DeBlois. He controlled the puck just inside the Alaska blueline and spun a couple of times while the Wolverines must have been in the middle of a line change. Ultimately, Guptill streaked down the middle of the ice and DeBlois hit him. There was no one home for Alaska and they let him skate right in and bury one.
The excitement was short-lived, however, as Alaska would score just 80 seconds later. Michigan lost a defensive-zone faceoff. The shot from the point was blocked, but the puck bounced around and led to Youngmun having a lot of net to shoot at. He didn't miss.
The Nanooks would then regain their two-goal advantage. K. Lynch tried to skate through three guys in the offensive zone and had it poked off his stick. In transition, Cody Kunyk brought it into the zone and paused. He slid a pass rink-wide to the other circle and Quinn beat Racine.
Trouba scored before the end of the period, as he was able to knock home a puck that was bouncing around in the slot after Guptill tried to stuff one in on a wraparound. It's was 4-3 heading to the third and the Wolverines replaced Racine with Janecyk.
On an early power play, the Wolverines were victimized again. Merrill knelt to try to keep a puck in, but it bounced off of him into the middle of the ice, leading to an Alaska rush. Janecyk made a good save on the initial shot, but the puck sat loose under his pad and it was jammed home by Tyler Morley.
Michigan pulled the goalie late in regulation and Zach Hyman found the back of the net to pull Michigan back within one again. Trouba's point shot was blocked by a defenseman over to Hyman and he buried it. The Wolverines wouldn't complete the comeback, however.
Saturday night was a battle of special teams, which, as you can imagine, didn't go well for the Wolverines. The teams combined for 27:01 in power play time, 15 power plays, and 21 shots with the man advantage. Michigan was again victimized by a slow start and even though Trouba brought Michigan to within one in the second period, the Nanooks scored twice in a 2:44 span in the third to seal their first sweep of the Wolverines.
Alaska had three power plays in the first and capitalized on two of them. With DeBlois off for interference early in the game, Taranto's centering pass from behind the net found Kunyk at the point. He beat Janecyk to give Alaska a 1-0 lead.
The Nanooks would strike again on the power play, this time with time running down in the first. Granberg drew the defense toward him out at the point and slid a pass over to an open Atkinson. He blasted a shot and Adam Henderson tipped it home. Guptill had a chance in the waning seconds as Keeney misplayed a puck behind the net. Guptill had to hurry to get a shot off before Keeney could get his stick back in front, and Guptill put it off the outside of the post.
With Michigan on the PP for the fourth time in the second period, Trouba bombed one home to cut the lead in half. He just snuck it between Keeney's blocker and the near post. They'd get no closer. In the mid-third, Michigan turned it over at center ice and Kunyk beat Janecyk on a shot similar to the one that Friese scored on the night before against Racine.
The one that sealed the game was a truly awful goal--one that had Janecyk kneeling to the ice in disbelief. After PDG was stopped at the other end, Henderson brought it into the Michigan end 1-on-2. He let a harmless wrister go from the top of the circle and Janecyk just misplayed it. He got a chunk of it, but it skipped past him into the net.
That was all she wrote. The Nanooks go into their weekend at Notre Dame happy. Michigan falls into a tie with Michigan State for 8th in the CCHA standings (though BGSU is three points back and has 3 games in hand on both teams).
The scary part is most of the remainder of the schedule is away from home. The Wolverines only have one game at Yost until March 1 and they face road trips to LSSU, WMU, Notre Dame, and Ohio State. Counting their home series with Ferris, that's 5 of the top 6 in conference that Michigan still has to face. They'll also play a home-and-Joe series with the Spartans.
At this point, all I think they can really do is try to nail down home ice in the first round of the CCHA Tournament and try to be playing their best hockey come mid-March, as that's the only way they're getting in the tournament. (Does anyone hear Jim Mora when I say that?) And honestly, I'd put more of an emphasis on the latter. Try different line combos, different defense pairings when they have the bodies, since Rutledge is theoretically your most talented goalie, make it known that he's getting a few starts without having to look over his shoulder to see if that can get rid of some of his yips. Bring in Greg Harden. Anything they can come up with. Outside of home ice in round one, these remaining games really don't matter. The at-large bid is gone. Mid-March is when this team will get a chance to play and salvage their season like the team from three years ago, and everything should be pointed toward that goal. Whatever it takes.
You can lose. You can give up goals. But fergodsakes don't be outworked in a game the rest of this year.