The Michigan Tech Huskies (13-11-5) travel to Ohio this weekend to face Bowling Green (16-8-6) after one of the more demoralizing weekends of the season. MTU was swept by lowly Ferris State in a frustrating pair of games. BGSU swept Lake State on the road to keep pace with the top of the conference and stay in the hunt for an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. These teams have already faced each other three times, with a tie and two BGSU victories.
This past weekend was almost impossible to explain. Friday night, Tech outshot the Bulldogs 38-18, holding FSU to single digit shots each period, yet still lost 4-3. The next night was less dominant by Tech in terms of shots, so Ferris State won even more easily.
There were a lot of problems, not least of which was a severe lack of depth. The mounting injuries were a serious hindrance this weekend, and probably a major reason why they were swept. Still, I think it would be a mistake to use that as a crutch to excuse the other clear factors as to why this weekend, and, frankly, most of the season, has been such a massive disappointment.
One problem is the penalty kill. It has been bad all year but was especially bad against FSU. Tech surrendered three goals on five power plays on Friday and allowed one more on Saturday for good measure. With a short bench, killing penalties becomes even harder, but the team worked so hard to limit Ferris to so few shots. To throw it away on three power play goals in the second period is tough to swallow.
Goaltending has been a focus in this space, and not for positive reasons. When a team only musters 18 shots in a game, the only way they are really going to win is if they capitalize on every chance. Ferris State scored four goals on five scoring chances in the entire game, an unacceptable rate. A great deal of that burden can be placed upon the goalies. Packy Munson started both games even though he was removed mid-way through Friday’s game after the third goal. On the weekend, he surrendered six goals on 39 shots. No team can win games when their starter posts a .846 save percentage. For whatever reason, Munson has hit a wall that he cannot seem to get over. It is hard to see strong justification for him starting another game this season.
Part of the above blame should be placed on Head Coach Joe Shawhan. I think it is necessary to limit expectations for a coach in their first season, and I have done so for the most part this year in being lenient. However, Coach Shawhan is a goalie himself. He has coached the goalies at Tech for many years and these three are as much his goalies as they are leftovers of Mel Pearson. Coach Shawhan has not managed the goaltending properly this year, which is the single thing one could reasonably expect him to be good at in his first year. Going away from Kero after he picked up a sweep against Alaska made little sense. Going back to Munson on Saturday after he was dreadful on Friday made even less sense.
This has been a frustrating season for all stakeholders, and it is now teetering on the precipice of being completely lost. Looking ahead, the sensible option would be to play Robbie Beydoun to see if there is any future in him as the starter. There is certainly no clear starter this year anyway, so playing him is not akin to waiving the proverbial white flag. It is now February. To think that the biggest issues – penalty kill and inconsistent goaltending – are just going to vanish in one weekend would be foolish. None of these goalies are going to turn into 2000’s Ryan Miller, so the best hope is to develop something for the future. Let us hope that the right decision can be made in the coming weeks.
Keys to the Game
- Shut down the top line. BGSU’s first line of Mitchell McLain, Brandon Kruse and Tyler Spezia has a combined 60 points. McLain leads the team with 13 goals and Kruse has 19 assists. This line alone can win games for the Falcons.
- Limit the penalties. This is kind of obvious considering the above analysis, but BGSU has a strong power play unit. 30% of their offense comes from the powerplay and both of their units can score. The Huskies cannot win this weekend if they are often down a man.
- Generate shots. Bowling Green has been hard to beat when they outshoot their opponent, losing only once when doing so. Tech must control the flow of the game, possess the puck, and test the Falcons’ goaltending in order to win.
The funny thing about Bowling Green is that their offense scores at the exact same rate as Tech: 3.07 goals per game. The difference is that the Falcons have solid goaltending. Ryan Bednard has a .912 SV% and a 2.26 goals against, and has played most games in January. All the Falcons need is for him to play well, not even spectacular, to have a good chance to win. If Tech had consistent goaltending like this, you might see them with a record similar to that of BGSU. Wishful thinking indeed.
I think a confident Falcons team can take care of a frustrated, and certainly not fully healthy, Huskies team this weekend. BGSU sweeps MTU, 3-1, 3-1.
Cover photo credit Ryan Johnson.