Analysis: WMU was the better team

OXFORD, Ohio – Despite being outshot by more than a 2-to-1 margin in the series finale, Miami salvaged a win and split the weekend series.

The RedHawks lost on Friday but edged Western Michigan, 4-3 at Cady Arena on Saturday.

And at the risk of sounding blasphemous, the Broncos were the better team this weekend. To go one step further, WMU is the better team at this point of the season.

The Broncos piled up 79 shots in two games while holding Miami to 40. They were in the offensive zone more, made better passes, got sticks in the lane more often on defense and were superior at keeping would-be goal scorers from getting good looks.

There’s a reason Western Michigan is No. 10 in college hockey.

To Miami’s credit, it had success getting behind the WMU defense, scoring shorthanded on a 3-on-2 and again on a penalty shot resulting from a shorthanded break by Josh Melnick (which is not technically a SHG – not sure hockey’s scoring rules make sense there).

Anthony Louis beat the D as well, passing to Willie Knierim for a goal.

The RedHawks were extremely opportunistic on the power play, going 2-for-3 on Saturday, with Grant Hutton burying one from the blue line and Melnick somehow tipping home a laser pass from Kiefer Sherwood at the top of the crease.

Miami goalie Ryan Larkin (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

Miami goalie Ryan Larkin (photo by Cathy Lachmann/BoB).

And, of course, there was Ryan Larkin. The freshman goalie was 30 of 31 through two periods in Game 2 before two tipped pucks beat him in the third. But without Larkin in net, Miami likely would not have earned a point this weekend.

This is the challenge that awaits the RedHawks in each of their final eight regular season contests. They will need to find a way to win more close games than they lose against some of the top teams in Division I, teams that are frankly better than Miami right now.

They will need to play their best hockey of the season every period, and can’t afford starts like the on they had on Friday or their finish on Saturday to earn much-needed wins.

Fortunately for Miami, a hot goalie can neutralize a better team, and the RedHawks have a netminder capable of stealing games like he did in this one.

Other thoughts…

Standings: All eight teams in the NCHC have played 16 leagues games, or two-thirds of their 24-game conference schedule. Miami trailed Western Michigan by five points heading into the weekend, and with both teams earning three points, WMU returned to Kalamazoo leading by the same margin. The RedHawks did pass St. Cloud State, moving into sixth before heading north to face the Huskies. Miami is up to 22nd in the PairWise and needs to go three games over .500 the rest of the way to be eligible for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.

– Miami has just one even-strength goal in its last three games. It scored five times this weekend after being shut out in its finale at Nebraska-Omaha, and the RedHawks netted two power play goals, one shorthanded and another on a penalty shot this weekend. Knierim has recorded the only even-strength goal for Miami in that stretch, and it was also his first career game winner.

– Hutton’s PPG was just the fifth this season by a Miami player not on the first unit (Melnick-Sherwood-Louis-Carson Meyer-Louie Belpedio). Hutton has two goals on the man advantage, Scott Dornbrock has one and just two have been scored by non-defensemen not among those four on the first unit (Justin Greenberg and Gordie Green, one each).

– Miami’s weekend high for shots in a period was 10. Western Michigan eclipsed that in five of the six.

– There was little flow in this game, which took 2:34 to play and featured 79 faceoffs.

GRADES

FORWARDS: B-. It’s hard to argue with results, and this corps did score three times, including two goals by Melnick. When this team hits, it tends to play better, and we saw plenty of contact dished out by Ryan Siroky, Conor Lemirande and others. Still, just 15 shots for 12 forwards, and they did little to prevent WMU from racking up 47 shots. And then there’s their 28-51 record on faceoffs. If it wasn’t for their shot efficiency their grade would be significantly lower.

DEFENSEMEN: C. Hutton scored on a sweet wrister, and Colin Sullivan picked up an assist on his Hail Mary pass. But then there’s the 47 shots allowed, which this group bears a substantial amount of responsibility for. Louie Belpedio was better than on Friday but still isn’t quite in top form. Chaz Switzer was back in the lineup and was once again improved over the first half of the season.

GOALTENDING: A-. Could be the first A-range for a goalie surrendering three goals on this site. Even though he allowed three goals, Larkin won this game for Miami. He turned 44 shots aside, including a spectacular save on a late chance by the Broncos. Larkin controlled almost every rebound, an impressive feat since a lot of the shots he faced had mustard on them.

LINEUP CHANGES: The only change for Miami was Alex Alger returning to the fourth line, while Bryce Hatten was scratched. Justin Greenberg was out for the fifth straight game, and was seen in the concourse wearing a boot on his foot, which he did not put any pressure on. He will obviously miss at least a couple more weeks, and his faceoff prowess and defensive and PK skills have been sorely missed by the RedHawks. Grant Frederic also did not dress for the second consecutive contest.

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Posted on January 29, 2017, in 2016-17, analysis, NCHC Hockey, Western Michigan and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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