The Michigan State Spartans will take on a red hot 13th ranked Michigan Wolverines squad this Friday night in Detroit at Joe Louis Arena. The Wolverines have gone 14-2 in their last 16 games and have not lost a game since Christmas. To help preview this weekends' game Joe and David from Maize n Brew answered some questions from me and their answers are below. For more info on this weekend be sure to check out our latest The Only Colors podcast and be sure to stop by Maize n Brew for some great hockey coverage.
1.) Michigan is in my opinion the hottest team in all of college hockey. In three weeks they have gone from the outside looking in, to a 3 seed in the NCAA tournament. Obviously the goals have started to come but in your opinion what has clicked lately for the Wolverines?
Joe: The defense and goaltending haven't changed one bit. Those units are still underperforming, but this team is scoring so many goals that right now it doesn't matter. What's changed offensively is that they're finally playing to their strengths. Instead of the panicked, shoot from anywhere hole past Wolverine teams fell into, this team grinds and they keep coming in waves. Eventually teams get worn out and can't keep up anymore.
David: For me it's this idea that they're pretty much clicking in the system. Michigan, with the exception of the last couple of years, has traditionally been a "second half" team, whereby they're mediocre up until someone hits a light switch all the way to the NCAA tournament. The Wolverines are a high-octane team and are built to score, so it's the coach's job to teach them defense. While the latter hasn't worked quite as well so far, you're starting to see the effects of having three capable centers in the top nine, each of whom could easily be racking first-line minutes right now. Combine that with Dylan Larkin becoming one of the best Michigan freshman in Berenson's tenure and Zach Hyman's unbelievable Hobey Baker-worthy season, and you're vis-a-vis with a pretty powerful squad.
2.) Michigan is #1 in goals scored/game but 44th in goals against. Has Zach Nagelvoort just dropped off that badly from a pretty decent year last year or has the young Michigan D corps been more of the issue?
Joe: It's a bit of both. The blueline does not do him any favors but sometimes the goalie needs to come up big and bail the team out. The blueline was horrific last year but he always seems to come up big when they needed him. This season he just hasn't found that grove.
David: This is a personnel issue, but as I often say about Michigan goaltending it more or less is what it is. Nagelvoort is either lights out or ice cold, and he hasn't been incredible this year at all. In addition, while Steve Racine is respectable, he hasn't been able to put together a stellar string of starts. The younger defenseman have actually been okay so far, but not great. Michigan still blows a ton of coverages in its own zone, and it surrenders more odd-man rushes per game than the amount of damages caused by U of M fraternities on ski trips.