Hockey Hate Weekend: Michigan State vs. Michigan

Your #14 Michigan State Spartans (10-5-1, 6-4-0 CCHA) vs. the #21 Michigan Wolverines (8-8-2, 4-6-2 CCHA; 1-1 in shootouts)
When and Where:
7:35 PM EST Friday, December 9 @ Yost Ice Arena (Ann Arbor) - Fox Sports Detroit
6:35 PM EST Saturday, December 10 @ Munn Ice Arena (East Lansing) - Big Ten Network

Hockey coverage here tends to be fairly light, in part because the combination of general lack of live coverage (about half of our games are televised, and of those only five are on channels other than Fox Sports Detroit or the local Comcast Sports and thus visible outside of the region) and lack of advanced stats for hockey makes it hard for anyone who doesn't live close enough to go to all the games to have much insight into the team, much less scout opponents. But this is Hate Weekend, and Hate Weekend cannot pass without at least some semblance of a preview. Insights from those who have been able to see more games this year are more than welcome; the only series I have seen was the split with Ohio State on October 20 and 21, and that part of the weekend was overshadowed a bit by a rather exciting football game on the 22nd.

Tale of the Tape

MSU is in sixth place in the CCHA with 18 points (3 for a regulation or OT win, 2 for a shootout win, 1 for a shootout loss; note that games ending in a shootout, for the purposes of the Pairwise Rankings that determine NCAA selection, are considered ties since most conferences do not use shootouts), but we have two games in hand on every team in the league (four on Alaska) and sit within four points of third-place Western Michigan. Michigan, meanwhile, sits tied for 8th with Miami-Ohio at 15 without those games in hand. MSU has gone on an 8-1-1 run since the Ohio State series, while Michigan just snapped a five-game losing streak with a 1-0 OT win last weekend in Alaska.

The absurdly early Pairwise Rankings have us 7th and Michigan 20th; this is largely a function of our excellent results against highly ranked teams (2-2-1 against the top four in the USCHO poll) and Michigan's ugly record against "teams under consideration" (defined as anyone with a .500 or better RPI; this is a change from two years ago when the cut line was the top 25 in RPI).

Goal scoring: In conference, Michigan State averages 3.2 goals per game and allows 2.3; Michigan averages 3 and allows 2.67. It's not often you see the 8th place team +4 in goal difference and 6th place +9; only league-leading Ohio State has a better goal difference than ours and Michigan's goal difference is 5th best behind ours and the top three. Three of our four conference losses are by one goal (the only exception being a 5-2 loss to Ohio State), and five of Michigan's six are as well. Including out-of-conference games puts both teams' goal differentials near +1 per game, thanks to a 10-3 (!) shellacking of St. Lawrence by Michigan. I expect both teams to move up over the second half of the season.

Michigan State Forwards vs. Michigan Defense

Senior Mike Merrifield leads the team with 8 goals, amazingly on just 21 shots on goal (a scoring percentage of .381, which is incredible). His linemates Lee Reimer and Greg Wolfe are first and second in points with 7-13--20 (goals-assists--total points) and 5-11--16, respectively. The trio also top the team in +/- (goals scored minus goals allowed while on the ice, not counting power play goals) at +13 (Wolfe), +12 (Reimer), and +11 (Merrifield). The line of Dean Chelios (yes, that Chelios), Daultan Leveille, and Brent Darnell has also been fairly effective (only nine goals combined, but +/- numbers of +5, +6, and +3). In contrast to last year, we have some depth in scoring; heading into the Big Chill, Brett Perlini was doubling up our second-highest scorer; this year he's one of eight guys with four or more goals and one of seven with ten or more points.

Defensive stats are pretty difficult to find (+/- is probably the most useful of the basic stats for evaluating defensemen, and it's not all that useful; blocked shots would be nice but I don't think the NCAA tracks them), but expect fireworks, both ways, when Michigan sends out Lee Moffie and Mike Chaisson on defense; in a 6-5 loss to Ohio State the pair were on the ice for all five of Michigan's goals, all three of Ohio State's even strength goals, and one of OSU's three power play goals and contributed a goal and five combined assists. They rank t-2nd and 4th on the team with a +/- of +10 and +9, respectively. Chaisson is the only one among the top two defensive pairings that doesn't take a lot of shots, but none of the D-men have put up more than three goals.

Shawn Hunwick has played the vast majority of the minutes in net for Michigan; his .917 save percentage and 2.43 goals-against average are solid but not spectacular.

Michigan State Defense vs. Michigan Forwards

Our top defensive pairing appears to be Torey Krug and Brock Shelgren; they sit t-3rd and 5th in +/- at +11 and +10. Krug, in particular, seems to get involved in the offense quite a bit, with four goals (on 30 shots) and seven assists. Matt Crandall doesn't score much (just one goal) but sets up quite a few scoring chances (9 assists).

Playing time in net has been split evenly between senior Drew Palmisano and sophomore Will Yanakeff. Yanakeff has the superior goals-against (2.26 to 2.73) and save percentage (.923 to .910). Palmisano is much more aggressive about playing the puck outside of his crease - sometimes too much so.

Michigan seems to once again spread the scoring around - two players with 14 points, four with 13, two more with 12, one with 11, and one with 10. Phil Di Giuseppe and Alex Guptill lead the way with 8 goals apiece, with A.J. Treis contributing six more and four others with 5 each. Chris Brown's 10 assists tie him with Di Giuseppe at 14 points. Michigan's top three lines all pack some serious scoring punch.

Special Teams

MSU averages 3.94 power play chances per game and allows 4.06. The power play succeeds at a modest 15.9% (down from last year at this time), but the penalty kill has been quite efficient at 89.2%, good for fourth nationally.

Michigan is a little more commonly penalized; they average 4.11 power play chances but allow 4.67. Their power play is slightly better than ours at 16.2% but the penalty kill is a mediocre 82.1%. Drawing penalties and cashing in will be key.

Prediction

The one advantage of having almost no seniors last year is that everyone is back and improved. (Not that I'd like to send out a lineup with two seniors again anytime soon, thank you very much.) With the added depth in scoring and a respectable second defensive pairing, this is unlikely to be a repeat of last year's fiasco where our first line held its own but the third and fourth lines were repeatedly and mercilessly blown off the ice. Given the nature of the rivalry, a split is fairly likely. Predicting an exact score might as well be pulling numbers out of a hat, but I'll go with 4-3 Michigan and 3-1 MSU, with the home team winning both nights.

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