Saturday, January 30, 2010

Thoughts on Michigan/MSU hockey

Of the many mistakes I've made over the last two years, not least among them is failing to go to a game at Yost. So I finally got a chance to see the underachieving Wolverines last night on the Big Ten Network take on Michigan State. I didn't see the finish because I was too disheartened to continue watching, but the following doesn't really have too much to do with that.

What I saw last night were a lot of schematic issues, the gravest of which was the team's break-in. Michigan spent a lot of time last night trying to stretch the ice by sending their wingers to the MSU blue line. That's all fine and good, but MSU almost always had three men back defensively and Michigan had no speed through the neutral zone, sans the puck carrier. This necessitated two different break ins: a dump and chase to the opposite side of the offensive zone or a 50-foot shot from the side boards. The dump and chase inherently didn't work because Michigan didn't have any speed. The MSU defenseman would just turn around for an easy breakout. The other break-in, a long shot from the sideboards, is almost never going to be effective. The only time it would is if you've got another player crashing the net, which again Michigan never did because of a lack of speed.

So the break-in was bad. Another problem that comes with this is that when Michigan did dump and chase, it created a lot of odd-man rushes coming back against Hogan. When Michigan dumped the puck, the wingers standing at the blue line would break in after the puck fruitlessly. The center, who had dumped the puck and nearside winger would crash on the puck and the weakside winger would attack the net. But since MSU's defensemen could get to the puck without much pressure, they could easily start their breakout, which often meant a 3-on-2 or worse. There was very little neutral zone regrouping (neutral zone swing, left wing lock, neutral zone trap, etc.) and as such, Michigan spent most of the game either trying stretch passes to immobile wingers or giving the puck to the center to rush up the ice by himself into the teeth of the defense, only to turn it over and get trapped deep in the MSU zone.

There was a mitigating factor, though. Either everyone on the Michigan team has stone hands (possible) or the ice last night was really soft. The puck looked like a skipping stone. And trying those long stretch passes with a rolling puck is dangerous and largely ineffective. The game tonight is at Joe Louis and you can expect the puck to sit down a little more as the ice is known to be essentially pavement. We'll see how it goes.


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