The Minnesota team people saw in the early stages of the season appears to be back. After starting to turn things around last weekend with a sweep of Ohio State, Minnesota carried that momentum over to Friday in a dominating 6-1 win over Michigan.
A Kyle Rau hat trick and four points from defenseman Mike Reilly led the way for the Gophers. Reilly helped get the scoring started when a strong shift in the Michigan zone drew a penalty on Michigan's Justin Selman at 5:27 of the first period. It took Minnesota's power play 1:01 to convert on that first opportunity when Reilly passed the puck to Kyle Rau, who finished off a nice give-and-go with Taylor Cammarata to put Minnesota up 1-0 early.
Minnesota would extend that lead later in the period with a pair of goals 53 seconds apart from Seth Ambroz and Vinni Lettieri. Minnesota didn't let off the gas in the second period. A Mike Reilly one-tie slap shot put Minnesota up 4-0 before Michigan could register their first shot on goal of the second frame. A Kyle Rau short-handed goal would make it 5-0 Minnesota and chase Michigan starting goalie Zach Nagelvoort from the game.
Boo Nieves would get Michigan on the board with a power play goal later in the period to break up Adam Wilcox's shutout.
Rau finished off his hat trick when an ugly Michigan turnover in the neutral zone sent him in alone on a breakaway. He buried a wrist shot over the should of Racine to bring a rain of hats onto the ice. Boo Nieves would tack his second goal of the game to bring the game to its' final margin.
The win improves Minnesota's record to 15-9-3 overall, and just one point behind Penn State for second place in the Big Ten. Michigan falls to 16-9-0 on the season, though still leads the Big Ten with 24 points.
The two teams meet again tomorrow evening at 7pm to complete their regular season series.
Shots on Goal: MINN: 10- 16 MICH: 8-7-
Corsi(even strengh shot attempts): MINN: 13-19- MICH: 14-5-
Prime scoring area chances: MINN: 5- 5- MICH: 7-9
What do the numbers tell us?
The first period was a fairly close game, other than some ugly goal tending from Michigan. Minnesota dominated the second period though and put the game away. I'm not figuring the fancy stats for the last period because the score effects of the blowout means they don't mean a whole lot.
-When I covered Minnesota's game on November 14th against Notre Dame, Minnesota looked absolutely unstoppable in the first period. It seemed like a sign of things to come. But then, for whatever number of reasons, the wheels feel off for Minnesota and they went through a dreadful midseason stretch that put their season in serious jeopardy. Tonight was the first time they looked like that team that blew Notre Dame off the ice, and it was awfully impressive. Michigan isn't a bad team, but they're definitely a flawed team, and Minnesota put all of those flaws on display tonight.
The first power play was a great example. Minnesota has the talent and skill that they're always going to be able to move the puck. But guys were also moving their feet and putting pressure on the defense that eventually led to a pretty goal. They really out-battled Michigan all night, which is something that has been too rare an occurrence for Minnesota this season.
-On the other side, Michigan just never got going in this game. They played a pretty even first period in terms of shots and chances but came out down 3-0. Their response in the second period was absolutely terrible though. They went the first eight and a half minutes of the second period without a shot on goal, while giving up another.
MIchigan is a shaky team defensively that makes up for it with a dominating top line. That line wasn't great tonight--Zach Hyman's grinding game along the boards is not suited for the big ice--and they couldn't keep pace with Minnesota's offense.
-No player looked more like the first half-version of themself more than Mike Reilly. He played with an assertiveness tonight that had been lacking during Minnesota's struggles and it really paid off. He has the ability to completely take over a game that few defensemen in the country possess with his skating and puck-moving skills and that's what he did tonight.
-Among the myriad of problems for Michigan, they didn't get a great game in goal from Zach Nagelvoort. Even the saves he did make, he left some rebound opportunities that he shouldn't have. Both the second and third goals were ones that he should stop, and ultimately, put Michigan in a hole they couldn't dig out of.
6:28 Kyle Rau from Taylor Cammarata and Mike Reilly (power play) 1-0 Minnesota
On the power play, Reilly, at the right point passed the puck to Rau, who fed Cammarata along the right goal line, then kept driving towards the net where Cammarata hit him with a pass for the goal.
16:07 Seth Ambroz from Travis Boyd and Mike Reilly 2-0 Minnesota
Reilly took a soft wrist shot from the left point that was tipped by Boyd and snuck through Nagelvoort's legs and laid in the crease. Seth Ambroz out-muscled a Michigan defender to knock in the loose puck.
17:00 Vinni Lettieri from Taylor Cammarata and Justin Kloos 3-0 Minnesota
Cammarata slapped a shot from the right wing to the far side bounced off the post, but Lettieri was there on the opposite side of the net to jam back the rebound.
7:19 Mike Reilly from Travis Boyd and Sam Warning 4-0 Minnesota
Boyd fed a pass to Reilly at the right point. Reilly slapped a one-timer past the out-stretched leg Nagelvoort.
11:17 Kyle Rau from Hudson Fasching and Mike Reilly (short-handed) 5-0 Minnesota
Rau brought the puck into the Michigan zone, and with the Michigan D sagging, Rau fired a heavy snap shot high that beat Nagelvoort for the goal.
18:35 Boo Nieves from Dylan Larkin and Zach Werenski (power play) 5-1 Minnesota
Larkin's shot from the right circle was deflected in front of the net and went to Nieves at the left circle, whose one-time shot deflected off a sprawling Wilcox and into the net.
5:32 Kyle Rau unassisted 6-1 Minnesota
Michigan turned the puck over in the neutral zone giving Rau a clear-cut breakaway down the right wing. Rau snapped a high wrist shot over the right shoulder of Steve Racine for the goal.
1413 Boo Nieves from Max Shuart 6-2 Minnesota
Shuart won the puck behind the Minnesota net and fed it out to Nieves in the slot. His wrist shot beat Wilcox under the glove for his second of the game.