Combating The 1-4 Forecheck
A huge problem Michigan had against Michigan State at Joe Louis was zone entry. The Spartans would line up 4 players across the blueline and dare the Wolverines to send the puck deep and go get it. They didn't, instead we saw a lot of carrying in right into the wall of players and easy denials into the offensive zone.
In Chicago it was a different story. The ice was not good and should have provided an advantage for this style of play, but the Spartans never were able to get their neutral zone sets going. This game started slow, so Michigan did a lot of dumping in early. They looked a stride faster from the opening puck drop and were easily able to beat the Michigan State players to the end line and win battles on the boards.
As the game went on and the Michigan players started to skate with confidence, their short passing game put an end to any kind of trapping by just getting on the rush before Michigan State could set up.
This wasn't a prefect plan. A few times all five Wolverines bolted for the neutral zone without the puck but either Zach Nagelvoort was there to cover or the Spartans missed. It was just that kind of a game.
An Existent Forecheck
As noted in the postgame by Tom Anastos the Michigan forecheck executed well in Chicago, much better than they did at Joe Louis. It's nice for this area of the game to be a difference maker for a change.
Any fan of Michigan hockey knows that forechecking hasn't been a strength of this team for many years, mostly because it's tough to get players with a scorers mentality to battle below the hashmarks.
The Wolverines did a better job causing pressure with 2 deep wingers but the biggest asset this weekend was their roving coverage between the slot and the blueline. The Spartans were dead set on getting out of their zone with long passes and active sticks from the Wolverines cut off diagonal feeds and caused all kinds of problems for Michigan State getting out of the zone.
Whether it was part of the gameplan or not, the Wolverines and Spartans shot selections were very unbalanced. That's not a bad thing; sometimes if a goalie is weak on the blocker or goes down quick you put pucks on net from spots to take advantage of that.
Michigan State attacked Zach Nagelvoort from his blocker side heavily in the 1st period with 14 attempted shots and 16 in the 3rd.
The Wolverines sent 18 pucks from the blocker side of Hildebrand in the 1st and attempted 24 shots from the glove side in the 2nd and 3rd. They also held an excellent shot blocking team to 10 blocks, the second lowest total for Michigan State this season.
Michigan had four goals last season from defensemen, two from Mac Bennett and two from Mike Downing. Cutler Martin has four himself this season and the unit as a whole has fourteen. They're not doing anything special, just putting the puck on net. The forwards do a great job of creating traffic in front and the puck finds it's way in.
More importantly Mike Downing and Cutler Martin have added balance to their games, getting active in the offensive zone and turning down the hitting. Before the season started no one was going to confuse either player with some of the league's offensive defensemen; 5 goals from Downing is the most he's had since he played for Detroit Catholic Central four years ago and Cutler Martin's four is his most since his first season in the USHL.