The Michigan hockey team returns to Yost Ice Arena this weekend for the first time since a Dec. 11 matchup with Ferris State when it hosts Wisconsin for a two-game series. Head coach Red Berenson met with the media to discuss this week's pertinent topics.
News: Michigan snapped a four-game losing streak and five-game winless streak with a sweep of Michigan State over the weekend, beating MSU 2-1 Thursday night at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit and 5-2 Friday night in East Lansing. The five-goal outburst ended a six-game stretch in which the Maize and Blue netted just nine goals (1.50 per game).
Berenson: "I thought we played harder and stronger on the puck than we've played in recent games. I thought we played with more conviction. We're not going to out-skill anyone. We just have to play the right way - stingy -- and then we have to be opportunistic and put our chances in.
"We're not winning special teams battles. The first half of the season we were but we haven't since. Now it's about playing 5-on-5, smart and sound, good in our zone, eliminating the breakdowns that were costing us games. If we're in a close game, hopefully we can kick one in like Phillip [Di Giuseppe] did on Thursday.
"We're defending better, playing harder, playing stronger, and playing with more will."
Views: Michigan was probably fortunate to emerge from Thursday's showdown with the win, playing an inconsistent game and again struggling to put its best chances in the net. But the Maize and Blue needed a victory like that, the game-winning goal coming with 2:18 remaining in the contest, to infuse in them the confidence that was so greatly missing from their game the past few weeks.
With that win, Michigan came out stronger, hungrier and after a so-so first period, really took the play to the Spartans for the second and third periods of U-M's Friday-night triumph. In the third period, when the Wolverines scored three goals in outshooting MSU 18-8, the team that had risen to third in the rankings and raced out to a 10-2-2 start seemed to finally return, and it is that team that Berenson is hopeful will show up for six periods against the Badgers.
News: Michigan ended its winless streak despite a poor performance from its special teams; U-M was 0 for 6 on the power play against the Spartans and surrendered a pair of man-advantage markers to MSU, which entered the weekend last in the six-team Big Ten with a power-play success rate of .133.
Berenson: "Our special teams were not good enough. You can't knock the other teams power play, you just have to defend it. I thought we gave up goals too easy. Every team has a power play that can score, and we need to defend better.
"If you look at our PK in the last 10 games, it's not good. Our power play in the last 10 games is not good. We have to get better in both of those areas.
"It's not like there is an obvious or simple solution. It's putting all the pieces together on these power plays. Getting good shots and chances, and rebounds. It's not all finesse."
Views: Michigan currently ranks second in the Big Ten on the power play, converting 19.7 percent of its chances, but is fifth in the league in penalty killing, staving off only 80.7 percent of its opponents' chances.
The numbers over the last nine games have been poor, with U-M scoring on 3 of 33 power plays (9.1 percent) and killing 23 of 31 (74.2 percent), and if not for the Wolverines' success the first 10 games, the overall season-long figures would look awful.
On the power play, it's clear Michigan is missing the threat from the point that it has consistently enjoyed over the years, especially in 2013 with defensemen Jacob Trouba (four PP goals) and Jon Merrill booming shots from the blue line and setting up teammates.
This year, not a single defenseman has netted a power-play goal in 20 games, and opponents eventually adapted, realizing they didn't have to respect that aspect of U-M's game, sagging into the zone and clogging up lanes that allow for the one-timers that typically beat goalies and man-down defenses.
The coaches have tried to use forwards on the point, but to no avail, and the answer doesn't seem like it will come anytime soon.
Michigan's PK rate over the last nine games is also alarming. Part of that is goalie play that has not been as sharp as it was early in the season, and part of that is U-M doing a big no-no - wasting chances to clear the puck. The Maize and Blue were good at that early in the year, playing a simple, no-frills game, and must get back to that.
News: When Michigan entertains Wisconsin on Friday, Yost Ice Arena will have sat empty for a Berenson-era record 50 days. This weekend's contests begin at 6:30 pm, and are critical to U-M's Big Ten title aspirations as the Wolverines sit 10 points back of first-place Minnesota (a win is worth three points) and three points behind the second-place Badgers.
Berenson: "We have to make this an important weekend obviously. We haven't played at home for a while and we want to get off to a good start at home. We're playing a team we remember well and respect. This is going to be a great weekend. I hope our fans get into it. These are 6:30 games and we need to let everyone know. We're going to start on time. Our fans will want to be there. People that think we're playing at 7:30 will miss half the game.
"This is about points and the standings, and the opponent. There are only five other teams in the Big Ten conference. No question we're going to have a rivalry with every one of them. This is the beginning of a renewed rivalry with Wisconsin where we will play them a lot every year, and maybe in the playoffs so we have to get used to it."
Views: UW swept Michigan earlier this month and it is imperative the Wolverines return the favor because it is clear the Golden Gophers won't suffer many hiccups along the way this season. A split, and U-M will be right back where it started in relation to the Badgers at the very least - another strong competitor for the league crown.
As for the layoff, it certainly has felt like forever since the fans packed Yost for a home game. Michigan will play eight of its next 14 in Ann Arbor, including highly-anticipated matchups with Penn State (Feb. 21-22) and Minnesota (March 14-15), and while the stretch of inactivity was mindless for many, the next seven weeks should be fun.
News: Freshman defenseman Kevin Lohan will not play this weekend.
Berenson: "I think he's going to meet with the doctors sometime this week but he won't be in the lineup this weekend. They'll talk about next week."
Views: Lohan suffered a knee injury Nov. 1 against Michigan Tech and has now missed almost three months. The original diagnosis was for a three-month absence so he's right on target.
While there was some hope that the 6-5, 202-pounder might return for this weekend's series, such talk was premature. We'd put his chances at next weekend at 25 percent, the trip to Minnesota Feb. 14-15 at 50 percent and the chances of Penn State at home Feb. 21-22 at 80 percent.