Michigan had a chance to secure a pair of signature wins against a Top-5 opponent before the mid-season break, but it was not to be. The Minnesota Golden Gophers jumped out to sizable leads in both games, and the Wolverines were never able to catch up. Minnesota won the Tuesday game by the score of 3-1, and the Wednesday game by the score of 4-0.
Michigan was shorthanded
As Kyle pointed out in the series preview, the Wolverines were going to be without some key players in this series because of the U.S. World Juniors team. Those who were unavailable include Thomas Bordeleau, Brendan Brisson, and Matty Beniers, also known as three guys at the top of Michigan’s points list so far this season. Cam York and Johnny Beecher were also unavailable. Without these players, the Wolverines struggled to consistently create quality scoring chances. The volume was still there, Michigan tallied 34 shots in each game, but Minnesota’s Jack LaFontaine was strong in goal and the Wolverines would have benefited greatly from being at full strength. However, even without these players, Michigan still has guys capable of spectacular things like Kent Johnson.
Penalties are a problem
This issue first manifested in a big way during the last series against Penn State when Michigan took a whopping 31 minutes worth of penalties in the second game of that series. The Wolverines again took too many penalties this series, with five being called against Michigan in the first game and seven in the second game. Three of Minnesota’s seven goals in this series were scored with the man advantage. There’s simply no need to be giving teams this many chances to play with an extra man. Penalties happen, it’s part of the game. Sometimes a defender is in a bad spot and hooks or holds a forward, sometimes you’re on the wrong end of a borderline call. But Michigan is taking too man penalties right now, and the two too many players on the ice penalties that the Wolverines took in game one just shouldn’t happen. Based on post-game comments from players and head coach Mel Pearson, the team knows this is something they need to work on.
Michigan should benefit from the break
The good news for Michigan is that this was the last series before the break. With the second half of the season yet to be announced, the Wolverines now have at least a couple weeks ahead of them where they can spend time in the film room and working in practice on where they have struggled so far. Michigan needs to tighten up its defense, reduce the rate at which they turn the puck over, and put themselves in better positions so they don’t commit as many penalties. Fortunately, all those things should be possible. Mel Pearson has himself a very, very talented but very, very young team. They should be able to improve over this break, and a much stronger second half of the season is possible if they do.