Boston College hosts Michigan tomorrow night at Conte Forum in the last hockey game of the first semester (where does the time go?). Both of these traditional powers find themselves on the wrong side of the bubble going into the break and could really use a win to boost their chances. To preview the game, I asked some questions of Brian Cook over at MGoBlog, a long-time, outstanding blog covering all things Michigan athletics.
1. As you mentioned to me earlier in the week, it's been a strange season for Michigan. They have a decent streak of results going right now, but it's been against subpar opposition. Have the performances improved at all?
They've had subpar results against subpar opposition, so averaging six+ goals a game over their last four is definite improvement. Their most recent game against OSU was night and day from earlier outings; they had a series of power plays that looked lethal after starting the season out inept.
Michigan still tends to give up piles of odd-man-rushes, which is real bad when you go up against a team as good as BC. In many other respects they've started living up to their considerable talent level.
2. Michigan is in sort of a similar boat as they have been the last few years, in that they're lagging behind where it seems like they should be on paper. Would you agree with that assessment?
Yes. It's been frustrating.
3. Offensively, the stats suggest Michigan has been excellent this year: 4+ goals and 35+ shots per game. It's on the other side where the Wolverines have struggled, giving up 2.92 goals per game. What do you think has led to this defensive weakness? Is it a style thing? How about the goaltending?
The defense is just not good. Early-enrolled freshman Zach Werenski has looked like the top ten pick he's likely to be; past that I'm not a big fan of anyone else on the roster. Michael Downing is probably the closest thing to a reliable second option and his decision-making is not up to par.
As a result they give up all those odd-man breaks, they blow neutral zone coverages, and they give up an inordinate number of Grade-A scoring opportunities for the number of shots they cede. The goaltending has mostly been fine, in fact.
4. When things are going well for Michigan, what does it look like? I guess destroying Ohio State and Penn State in the past few weeks would be somewhat decent examples.
Michigan rolls deep on offense. Their top three lines are all capable of putting the puck in the net, and they use that skill to dominate possession and often shots. There's not a lot of whizbang skill—#23 Alex Kile is the closest thing to a puckhandling wizard and he's only okay. There is a lot of hard skating and grit. Andrew Copp and JT Compher are both guys who score by working relentlessly, as is Zach Hyman. The general goal is to wear you down and put pucks on the net until some go in.
5. It sure seems like the Big Ten is kind of a dumpster fire this year from 2-6, aside from Minnesota obviously. What's up with that? Do you think this is a blip or is the Big Ten not going to be our new Hockey Overlords after all?
It's not a blip. Michigan State's been a dumpster fire aside from their fluke national championship season and is still trying to make the former CCHA commissioner into a hockey coach. Wisconsin is so so bad that they're probably going to have to find a new coach; OSU has never really put energy into their hockey program or found consistent success.
They should get better, but I don't see the Big Ten ever being the uberconference some people thought they'd be. I didn't even at the beginning.
6. Do you see potential for Michigan to climb into the tournament field this year? (In the regular season. Let's put aside the fact that anyone can win the Big Ten tournament, because Big Ten.)
If they keep playing like this, sure. There's a lot of time left. They will have to rack up a stellar record given the weakness of some of the Big Ten teams, but I'd give it a decent shot now.
7. Any prediction for Saturday's game? How will Michigan fare flying across the country to take on a similarly situated BC team?
Anyone who's experienced single-elimination hockey knows the futility of predicting any individual game, but Michigan's figuring things out and they know this game is going to be huge for their tourney chances. It should be a doozy.
Thanks Brian! For more Michigan hockey coverage, check out MGoBlog.