Michigan Tech (5-3-1, 5-3-1 (0-0) Pairwise) returns home this weekend after splitting with the Bowling Green Falcons (3-7-0, 3-5-0 (0-2) Pairwise). They face off against a severely underperforming Lake Superior State (1-6-1, 1-5-1 (0-1) Pairwise) team.
Going into this season the Lakers were pegged to be in the upper end of the CCHA with a large returning class. However, they were more or less exposed in their exhibition game with Tech to be lacking on multiple fronts and have yet to prove otherwise this season. They started their season with an eight game home stand hosting Nebraska-Omaha (4-4-2, 3-3-2 (1-1) Pairwise), Michigan (8-2-0, 6-2-0 (2-0) Pairwise), Clarkson (3-6-0, 2-4-0 (1-2) Pairwise), and Northern Michigan (7-5-0, 6-5-0 (1-0) Pairwise). With the exception of Michigan their opponents have been more than beatable but here the Lakers sit in the second week of November at 1-6-1.
So where might their problems lie you might ask? Well it’s a bit complicated but looking at their team stats is a good starting point:
Here we can quickly see a major problem in a lack of scoring and a lack of goaltending from the Lakers. It’s not surprising senior Louis Boudon is leading the team, but other than him there isn’t much else in the way of production. There are some players with a higher point/game than what’s listed like junior forward Harrison Roy (1 Pt/GP), but he and the others have played half of the games. The main issue with this Laker group is that they aren’t scoring, and to make matters worse they aren’t keeping the puck out of their own net either.
They are averaging 3.75 goals against so far this season while keeping their opponents under 3 goals just once so far this season in a 5-1 win against Clarkson. This has been their biggest problem as Teams are putting up crooked numbers on them while keeping them to just a goal or two. Even in the instances they score 3+ goals in a game they have a record of 1-2-1. Finally, before we look at our instat data, with teams like NMU, UNO, and Clarkson able to keep the Lakers’ offense, it bodes well for our Huskies who is probably a better team than those three with regards to defensive play and structure (when players are healthy).
The Lakers were able to pull ahead of the Wildcats in xGs but if you look closely even after scoring multiple goals their play was well above what the analytics predicted. Game two is particularly interesting as NMU was clearly outplayed but still ended up winning the game. The reasoning behind this is due to LSSU’s poor special teams. They gave up two power play goals turning the tide.
Looking at the shot maps we find:
LSSU gave up some low chance shots both nights with the main reason being positioning from either the netminder or the defensemen. Additionally, most of the Lakers goals came from defensive confusion on NMU’s part. I would suspect that the Lakers will try to take advantage of the Huskies in the same way.
Speaking of our Huskies, it’s time to address last weekend. Tech managed to split with the Falcons taking game one relying solely on Blake Pietila to win the game after going up in the third period. The entire weekend was very physical from Bowling Green which ended in them getting three five minute major penalties. The Huskies wouldn’t take the best advantage of this scoring only once on the power play. To add insult to injury they would give up two breakaways both by Jake Crespi resulting in a penalty shot (which Blake would stop) and a shot haddend goal. Needless to say Crespi didn’t have a good weekend, but the rest of the team didn’t fair much better.
Game one’s hero in Blake Pietila would look strong going into game two but would eventually break given the how little help he received from all five players playing in front of him. Though the score sheet shows four goals against, Blake is not the reason the Huskies decided to not show up all weekend. The team was sloppy, unorganized, and on their heels all weekend. This would show in the amount of ill timed penalties they would take to either make a five minute power play turn into a 4 on 4 or in the case of game two cause the game to drag out even though the result was already known long before the start of the 3rd period.
Looking at the shot charts we see:
Game one we see Tech managing to get some high danger chances while keeping the falcons to the outside of the zone. This game saw a huge amount of shots ending with a combined total of 81 shots. However when we convert that to shooting percentage we see that Michigan Tech had 7.9% and Bowling green had 4.7%. Keep in mind that the average is 10% or 1 goal per ten shots. This is pretty indicative that Blake was able to steal game one for Tech while game two finally saw a regression to the mean.
Game two sees Tech shooting 2.7% while Bowling Green shot 18.2% making up for game one. The thing to note from this is that on the weekend as a whole the Huskies only managed 5.3% against a weaker Falcon defense from what they’ve seen from the likes of Bemidji. This is a bit worrisome as it may indicate that a strong offense can counter the Huskies ability to score. Tech will have to wait until Minnesota State or NMU to confirm this suspicion, but by then they would likely already have Thorne and Lipe back from injury nullifying this problem.
Keys to the Game
- Tracing Back Roots. Tech under Coach Shawhan has been the defensive stalwart of the CCHA. They broke from this trend last weekend and need to return to this mindset against the Lakers. They are going to score some goals this weekend, but it remains to be seen how many they will in return give up.
- Special Teams. This is a tough one as the Huskies did not fare well on the power play last weekend. Part of the problem was the team wasn’t having a good weekend while the other part was the presence of Jake Crespi on the power play. With Crespi quarterbacking as a defenseman Tech is gambling a bit having five forwards essentially. Now people will disagree with me on this, but regardless of who’s hurt on this Huskies team they can not afford to do this again. It is much safer to have a more defensive defenseman on the ice or even an offensive one in Ryan O’Connell instead of Crespi even if it does lower their offensive chances.
- Control the Chaos. LSSU is most dangerous when things don’t go to plan. Tech needs to try to keep to their systems and set plays to give Blake the best possible chance of carrying the team.
This is a harder series to predict as the Huskies we out played and are suffering from injuries for key players. LSSU isn’t making it any easier with their massive underperformance so far either. I would lean towards a split while if any team were to sweep it would be the Huskies. MTU wins 4-1, LSSU wins 3-2.
The guys on our Chasing MacNaughton Podcast also made predictions for this coming series against the Tommies. Season Four Episode Eight’s liner notes can be found here.
Cover photo courtesy Michigan Tech Athletics.
InStat plots created by Zach Aufdemberge
How to Watch
Tuesday’s games are available through Mix 93.5 for audio featuring Dirk Hembroff (free), via flohockey.tv* (paywall) for video. Friday’s game is at 7:07 EST with Saturday’s game being 6:07 EST
*Flohockey.tv is also the source of all games played in CCHA buildings this season so don’t be
Jonathan graduated from Michigan Tech in the spring of 2018 with a degree in Physics and Social Science in addition to a minor in Social and Behavioral Studies. He spent his college career watching hockey with the Misfits where he became the treasurer in his last year. When not traveling to away games he resides in Hancock working for a local engineering company and keeping up with all things Tech Hockey.