I wasn’t expecting a Michigan win in this one, but the degree to which they were blown out came as a surprise. Scoring against Austin Kaut and Co. was a known tall task. Penn State’s ability to score seemingly at will on the other end of the field was the surprise.
From the official box score, a look at the tempo-free stats:
|Penn State 2014|
|Faceoff Wins||12||Faceoff Wins||20|
|Offensive Efficiency||.259||Offensive Efficiency||.579|
By last year’s standards, this was an average-paced game between the teams (with 65 possessions, it splits the difference between the Nittany Lions’ 64 and Wolverines’ 66). Penn State dominated that possession, though they didn’t really need to do so given the disparity in the offensive outputs.
(Quick note – there are discrepancies between the official box scores on the Michigan and PSU websites, so for now I’m trusting the Penn State version as gospel, since it doesn’t credit TJ Sanders with an assist on one of his own goals…).
We’ll start where the problems really got started for Michigan – possession. Though the Wolverines cleared very well, they had far fewer opportunities to do so (their possessions ended with a Penn State clearing attempt; Penn State’s possessions ended with a goal and a faceoff), and the battle on faceoffs went decidedly in the Nittany Lions’ direction. Brad Lott did not play, though I was expecting him to, and that (hopefully) accounts for some of the issues there. Will Biagi had a decent 4/9 performance on faceoffs, but Kevin Wylie and LSM Chase Brown combined for a .348 mark, allowing for PSU’s advantage in possession. Penn State also had three goals directly off faceoff wins, and though that wasn’t the key to their offensive success, it certainly didn’t hurt.
The biggest key to Michigan’s defensive struggle seemed to be goalkeeping. U-M’s goalie duo combined for 22 goals against and just six saves. Depending on which box you trust, both Zonino and D’Alessio gave up 11 (Michigan version) or Zonino gave up 14 and D’Alessio gave up eight (Penn State version). Either way, the freshman made five saves while D’Alessio saved just one shot. Maybe Penn State is that talented, but given that only six of their 22 goals were assisted(!), I tend to think some of it is on the keepers – with another hefty portion of the blame going to individual defense against dodgers. Now that Zonino has a game under his belt with the pressure of a D-1 game, hopefully he’ll be able to make some quick adjustments and improve.
Penn State’s scoring production was dominated by the Nittany Lions’ two best-known threats, senior attack Shane Sturgis and sophomore linemate T.J. Sanders. That one attackman (Tyler Melnyk) accounted for most of the scoring in the Marquette scrimmage is one thing, but with a true scouting report installed and Penn State’s offense not exactly a mystery, this is troubling. Michigan’s longpoles are banged up quite a bit, but one-on-one dodging seemed to destroy them on a couple occasions (and the goalkeeping, again, will take a step back with Gerald Logan out injured). The third starter at attack, Kyle Baier, added three goals for good measure. (There’s something to be said for Sanders scoring two of his goals, Sturgis scoring one, and Baier two after Penn State had a ten-goal second-half lead. Tambroni didn’t exactly call off the dogs on offense, even when Michigan switched to a walkon goalie).
When they got possession, Michigan’s offensive players actually did a pretty good job holding onto the rock. Eight turnovers in 27 possessions doesn’t look great, but the Wolverines did manage to launch 35 shots (albeit with only 17 on goal), so they had the ball enough to actually do the things needed to score gong forward against defenses that are slightly less awesome.
…and the awesomeness of the Penn State defense really is that notable, as mentioned above. Even though only three of Michigan’s seven goals came against Austin Kaut (backup Conor Darcy allowed four and saved four in just over 20 minutes of action), U-M won’t face Kaut again this year. Nor will they face as talented a unit of defensemen.
Onto the good side of things for Michigan, where there were some encouraging offensive performances. Freshman Ian King was the only multi-goal scorer with two (albeit with nine shots and only five on goal), but sophomore attack Riley Kennedy notched three assists. He assist both of King’s goals and on David McCormack’s score, as well. Thomas Paras, Mike Hernandez, David Joseph, and freshman Mikie Schlosser accounted for the rest of Michigan’s goals, all unassisted. With the way some units are banged up (Michigan isn’t running a true lefty at attack right now), there’s room for improvement, especially when facing reasonable defenses.
Michigan had a ton of EMO opportunities (seven), and though they cashed in on three of them, they’ll have to do better in the future to capitalize on what opponents are giving them. A great goalie is one killer man-down advantage, so give them a slight pass against Kaut. But, uh, they had a 6-on-3 opportunity in the second quarter and couldn’t score. That’s really not good.
Things get a little bit easier this week, going from the No. 6 team in last year’s final TFL ratings to the No. 54 team in the ledger in Mercer. U-M will return home to face the Bears at home in Oosterbaan Fieldhouse. That venue has been Michigan’s best in the short history of the program (better than Michigan Stadium, even), and this is a rare opportunity for a win.
Mercer beat first-year program Boston U by a 17-6 score over the weekend, so the Bears certainly won’t be a pushover (also evidenced by the fact that they won three games last year, albeit against the worst two teams in the country and a St. Joseph’s squad that also lost to Michigan).