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Michigan Hockey vs. Wisconsin Preview - 2/27/15

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Defense Wins Championships

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The man you see in the picture above will not be playing for Michigan on Friday night thanks to his third game misconduct of the season and therefore automatic suspension awarded this past Sunday against Ohio State. Red Berenson, who has gone as extreme as running seven defensemen and three centers at times this year, will have to get creative.

Downing has been a huge cog on the blue line, serving as a physical yet stabilizing presence on the blue line throughout his tenure at Michigan. It's a loss, but it's getting quite interesting watching this anti-checking dynamic develop in the Big Ten. Red Berenson has stated that he wants five-minute majors to be reviewable by the league. As the league evolves, the CCHA officiating seems to have carried over.

It was an immature and unnecessary call, but Michigan should survive.

A few weeks back, Michigan was scoring at an insane pace and defending poorly to put it nicely. Now that the scoring has diminished, the defense is still bad. The philosophy of choking the lane doesn't work, but the coaching staff still thinks it's effective.

Main Idea: Michigan is getting away with a ton of  systemic issues against lesser teams that will be even bigger problems going forward towards the postseason. It's a problem that doesn't seem to be going anywhere

Some Tidbits:

  • Wisconsin is 2-10-2 in the Big Ten, while Michigan is 9-5-0.
  • There's still no definitive starting goaltender, and watching the regression of Zach Nagelvoort (.908 SV%), who at times last year was the nation's hottest goaltender, has been completely and utterly frightening. Watching Steve Racine (.901 SV%) tend goal is a pleasure some nights, and looks worse than your pimply brace-faced middle school girlfriend on other nights. Going into the season, there was a ton of excitement at the thought of having two starting goalies.
  • Zach Hyman and Dylan Larkin are both in the running for the Hobey Baker, and Jack Eichel just drank beer out of the Beanpot (a 18 year-old college student drinking beer, oh no), so there's definitely a chance that these guys can be finalists. On Sunday against OSU, each of them had a goal and three assists in a dominant win. Hyman now sits at third overall in NCAA scoring with 43 points in 18 games, and Larkin has had nine goals and thirteen assists since returning from World Juniors. I've said time and again that Eichel is my pick for Hobey, but these two Wolverines are having one amazing season.
  • Per the Michigan hockey media guide:

Freshman defenseman Zach Werenski notched his second two-goal game this season against Ohio State and leads all Big Ten defensemen with seven goals on the season. Werenski leads U-M blueliners with 21 points (7G, 14A) on the season. Werenski is second among Big Ten defensemen in points (0.81 points/game). Werenski is on pace to near Jack Johnson's scoring record (32 points in 2005-06) for freshman defensemen at Michigan.

  • Wisconsin is G-d awful this year, despite their two recent wins. That being said, Joel Rumpel is still dangerous in goal, and Grant Besse is having a respectable season with 10 goals and 11 assists in 28 games. He's their leading scorer by the way.
  • If all goes well, against a terrible team, Michigan's possession numbers should be masked as good this weekend. Joe doesn't delve too much into stats and analytics, but Michigan often finds itself losing the CF/FF battle at even strength every night, and the shots that are going on goal tend to be low-percentage shots. They have to work on creating more open looks in the slot at even strength and getting some second-shot opportunities. Last season, point shots did the trick. This year, a lot of those shots are getting blocked. The solution is either to move the puck around more at the blue line or use the boards. Easier said than done.
  • Michigan is only three points back of Minnesota in the Big Ten, having played one less game. It's been a rocky year, but despite this, Michigan will probably make a return to the national tournament and easily contend for the Big Ten title.