The Michigan Tech Huskies (10-8-1, 9-3-1 (1-5) Pairwise) enter the second half of their season back in CCHA play against their former satellite campus in Sault Ste. Marie facing off against the Lake Superior State Lakers (11-12-1, 9-12-1 (2-0) Pairwise).
The Lakers have taken a nosedive since they last played the Huskies, losing 8 of 13 games since November 6th. However, despite losing eight games the Lakers show a very promising offense when they can get things going, showing a similar problem to Tech’s hot-or-not scoring. Additionally, the head-to-head against common opponents these two squads have played needs some deeper diving. First, we’ll look at the Lakers’ schedule since the Huskies last played them.
This LSSU team defies any normal assumptions so far this season. There is a good amount of parity between teams like BSU, NMU, BGSU, and FSU when it comes to pure numbers regarding goals for, goals against and shots allowed on goal. Yet teams like the Beavers and the Falcons handily swept the Lakers while the Lakers were able to hand it to the Wildcats. What is even more confusing is how this team can split with a team like the Mavericks while also splitting with the Bulldogs. Additionally, this table shows that despite their record the Huskies are performing similarly to the Mavericks. The results from playing the Lakers have mimicked theirs with the Mavericks splitting the series, with the only difference being the need of overtime against our Huskies.
This Lakers team also boasts some reasonable stats too, with a player in the top 10 of fall NCAA scoring in Louis Boudon leading the charge.
The Lakers have a better offense than the Huskies in terms of scoring depth. Though most of these point totals came in the way of large blowouts against weaker defensive teams and lacking against the better CCHA defenses. However, the Lakers still lack a reliable goaltending option after losing Mitens to the transfer portal. Yes, they are capable of stealing a few games like that against the Mavericks and Huskies, but those performances are more outliers than the average.
Looking at the better performances in net Langenegger, has been the reason behind those wins in conjunction with their middle of the road defense. From what I can tell, head coach Damon Whitten is still swapping between both netminders with a high frequency. Only time will tell if this trend continues or if Langenegger can steal the net full time.
Our Huskies have been right on the edge of greatness this season, but they seem to be suffering from one main part of their game in terms of effort and pace setting. The Huskies appear to keep playing to the pace of their opponents instead of dictating that pace. This has been the case all season, with the exception of the series against Wisconsin and game one against St. Thomas. Every other series has been an even match, even though the Huskies should be the better team. This was the case against Michigan (down 5-7 players) and against Michigan State in their last set of games. Both cases the Huskies played to the level of their opponent and as a result they tied and lost in overtime.
Next up is a look at the big picture as it stands as of the writing of this preview. The Huskies are currently 12th in pairwise after a goldilocks set of game results just on this Monday alone. Since they didn’t play last weekend, Tech was at the mercy of the teams they have played and with a non-conference record of 3 wins, 1 reg. loss, 2 overtime losses, and 1 tie. So far, the Huskies have been on the better side of luck regarding their pairwise. Additionally, the only team that they can feasible lose to without much of any repercussions is their second series against Minnesota State. This then means that for the second half of the season our Huskies need to go 12-2 with no overtime unless they are playing the Mavericks. This is a tall task and I personally don’t see the Huskies being capable of this feat due to an offense that is less reliable than my snow blower on a cold Keweenaw day.
This isn’t to say that Tech’s offense isn’t capable, as even an unreliable snow blower does start after enough pulls. But, removing their blowout games against Wisconsin, game one against St. Thomas and game two against Ferris the Huskies only manage to average 2.47 goals a game. That is not a sustainable offensive effort and if you remove Brian Halonen’s .47 goals a game average (again removing the four previously listed games), the rest of this Huskies team is scoring 2 goals a game. Halonen is accounting for roughly 20% of Tech’s scoring in close games and that is just plain unacceptable as he only makes up 5% Tech’s roster (not including the goalie). His season has been a huge step so far, but the rest of the team is miles behind his performance so far this season.
Above is a list of points from players we would consider to be mainstays in the Huskies line-up with eight forwards and the top two D men. There are some notable trends that are good for our Huskies. First is the drastic drop off in point production with only eight players on the entire team with double digit points. To put that in perspective, there are 11 players that have 13 or more games played that I cut from this list because they had under 9 points. There is always a caveat with taking this stance as 4th liners and defensive defensemen don’t necessarily score many points, but on a team that is struggling offensively it is more exaggerated. The depth scoring is non-existent, but at the same time is being relied on.
Trend two is how streaky these points are distributed. Players like Parrottino, Caderoth and Broetzman all have numbers expected with defensemen. This is normal for a player like Caderoth who showed a very similar stat line last season, but when the Huskies have relied on players like Parronttino and Broetzman for their goal production, this season we are more likely to see production from Pietila, Bliss, or Ashbrook. The distribution of points is in many ways a regression from prior seasons from Bliss, Caderoth, Parrottino, and Broetzman.
The final trend has to do with games played. There are few regulars that have missed games due to injury, illness etc. (Bliss, Swoyer, Misiak, Broetzman) and then there are decisions made by the coaching staff. Logan Pietila is a perfect example of this. He has four points against Wisconsin, 0 in the one game series against Notre Dame. After that, he is inexplicably benched against Clarkson and game 1 against LSSU. The player who is now third on the team in point production per game was benched for three games this season.
It is logic like this that has me skeptical coming into this second half of the season. This team and coaching staff are both underperforming from where they should be on paper. Players like Swoyer and Throne should be quarterbacking the power play, of which Thorne was nowhere to be found in their last series on the PP unit one or two. This team is a good team, their defense is top 10 in the country, Blake Pietila is a top 10 goaltender in the country. Defense and special teams are not the problem with this Huskies team. Instead, it’s 5-on-5 scoring and faceoffs that are the downfall of this Huskies team and this doesn’t look to change anytime soon.
Keys to the Game
- Faceoffs. This should be self explanatory in that faceoffs lead to possession as well as shooting and clearing chances. LSSU is in the top half of the country (18th) at 51.2% while the Huskies are tied for 40th with 48.3 % and are the worst team with a ranking by a large margin.
- Special Teams. The Lakers are one of the most penalized teams in the country averaging four per game. The Huskies will need to take advantage of this and score as many points on the powerplay as possible.
- Quality shots. In their last loss to the Lakers, the Huskies managed 44 shots on net. Only two went in for a shooting percentage of 4.5 % (10% is average). Throwing shots on net just isn’t worth it for this Huskies team. Either get deflections from screening and shooting through traffic or drive the net. Shooting straight to the bread basket and making the opponent’s goalie look like a Hobey Baker finalist needs to stop.
This is where things get hard. The Huskies are the better team on paper and overall stats, while LSSU has the better individual players in terms of scoring and point totals. I sadly don’t expect the Huskies to get a clean sweep. I fully expect a 35-40 shot night with only one or two goals in a loss that that should’ve been a win. I want to be proven wrong, but we’ll just have to wait and see. MTU wins 3-2, LSSU wins 2-1.
Cover photo courtesy Michigan Tech Athletics.
How to Watch
Both games are available through Mix 93.5 for audio featuring Dirk Hembroff (free), and via flohockey.tv* (paywall) for video. Game 1 will be Friday at 7:07 Est and game 2 will be Saturday at 6:07 Est.
*Flohockey.tv is also the source of all games played in CCHA buildings this season so don’t be afraid to sign up for a month or the year. Flo Sports now has apps for iOS, Android (with Chromecast support), Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, and Roku.