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Wednesday, January 18, 2006

1/17/2005 - Hockey 0-2 Michigan State - 13-8-1, 8-5-1 CCHA

Michigan Hockey makes me a sad
I don't think I'll try to make a hilarious reference to Bette Midler beating the holy hell out of dozens of midgets with a Christmas ham, since the last time I tried that a couple people mentally envisioned Midler having batting practice with the little people, decided that checked out okay with their plausibility filters, and actually chastized me for having intimate knowledge of the inner workings of Beaches. But if you take Bette's pulsating anger in this totally fictional situation--something that would drive her to beat small cute things with otherwise useful foodstuffs--you'll have a good approximation of what it felt like to watch Michigan get bitched by Michigan State at Munn last night. And that's was just the first two periods, as my cable mercifully fritzed out after 2/3rds of that... whatever it was. So I didn't even see Jack Johnson get a game DQ for what was at worst a two-minute minor. (Charging? No. Left his feet? No. Check from behind? No, Howells brought that on himself by turning at the last possible moment. Elbows up? Okay, sure. DQ? Only if you're the inimitable, incompetent Steve McInchak.)

Obviously my eye towards the Michigan hockey team is jaundiced this morning, so you may want to take this with a slightly larger grain of salt than usual: I think it's clear that this particular edition of the Michigan hockey team is not, um, good. This isn't particularly surprising, what with the vast freshman class and thin roster wracked by offseason departure, but Michigan's 9-1-1 start had fans believing that maybe Red had pulled another rabbit out of his hat. We've been forcibly disabused of that notion: since that hot start, Michigan is 4-7. Ick.

The bothersome part is that the main culprits appear to be our supahstar hotshot defensemen. Jack Johnson and Matt Hunwick started the year on a tear, murdering people, scoring goals, and appearing for all the world like a couple of top four NHL defensemen who got gloriously lost on their way to Joe Louis. Now Johnson's taking bad penalties--even if they don't deserve DQs--and Hunwick is disturbingly difficult to tell apart from Tim Cook at times. It was Hunwick who stupidly crosschecked a Michigan State player after the whistle and turned a (questionable, natch) 5 on 4 into a 5 on 3 that MSU scored on. It was Johnson who let Bryan Lerg get five feet behind him and score on a shorthanded breakaway. The pair watched Wisconsin's winning goal from up close after getting split on a one-on-two, then nearly watched the same thing against UNO a week later. In short, their heads have been lodged snugly in their asses for going on two months. Michigan's record reflects it.

All is certainly not lost. Michigan's schedule to date has been difficult and they find themselves tournament-secure in in the RPI (6th) and PWR (8th) rankings. Though they're superficially 5th in the CCHA at this instant, they have at least two games in hand on everyone in front of them (and four on Lake State). An adequate performance relative to talent from here on out will easily net them a tournament bid. Unfortunately, Michigan has shown time and again this year they do not have the ability to break out of the zone when faced with serious pressure from a disciplined forechecking team. Defensive zone turnovers have led to goals seemingly every weekend, and Michigan has hardly been competitive in the games they've played against really good teams.

They'll keep their tourney streak intact, but it's increasingly clear that they'll keep another streak intact, too: missed Frozen Fours. Sad Panda!