Going into the second weekend of regular season action, the Spartans had plenty of room for improvement from an opening weekend sweep at the hands of UMass. Special teams, both the power play and penalty kill, were anemic at Amherst and the Spartans continued to struggle offensively. After a week of practice both problems still showed up this past weekend, yet the Spartans somehow found a way to get their first victory of the year. It's great to have that first win but getting only 4 goals on a weekend is not sustainable, especially in the B1G where teams like Minnesota seem to be scoring at will.
Friday night against the University of Massachusetts-Lowell the Spartans looked under-prepared, out-hustled and much like the team that scuffled through a 12-win season last year. The Spartans lost 4-1 and never looked like a threat to come out with a victory. After starting the game with 14 shots in the first period, the Spartans could only manage 11 shots on net the rest of the game. The most frustrating stat of the night was that the Spartans didn't have one shot on net in five power play opportunities. The team struggled to get the puck into the offensive zone during the power play, let alone create any type of sustained offensive pressure.
It was incredibly frustrating watching the forwards, on every power play lose possession the same way. It was, come up the ice, dump puck into the zone, Lowell wins battle for the puck, puck cleared from the zone, rinse and repeat. For a team with young freshman and sophomores still adjusting to the college game I don't exactly understand this strategy. Why give away possession on your power play, when your small forwards are losing battles along the boards to the strong Lowell defenders?
The positives of the night belonged to Ryan Keller and Mackenzie MacEachern. MacEachern scored his first collegiate goal on a beautiful breakaway in the third period to pull the Spartans within two at 3-1. MacEachern showed great speed pulling away from a defender and let loose a beautiful wrist shot that beat the goaltender high on the glove side. Keller was a great energy forward all night creating turnovers in the offensive zone, playing physical and earning a breakaway after blocking a shot on the penalty kill.
The performance by Keller on Friday night earned him a promotion to the 1st line Saturday against Boston University. Boston came into Munn Arena Saturday after getting completely dominated by Michigan Friday, getting outshot 44-19 in a 2-1 loss. The Spartans once again struggled to finish offensive chances, but grinded out a 3-1 victory over the 13th-ranked Terriers.
The Spartans trailed 1-0 with 5 minutes to go in the contest, even though they had outshot the Terriers 25-18 after 2 periods. In a span of 52 seconds, the Spartans scored two goals with a bit of luck and hard work below the goal line. Brent Darnell tied the game by throwing the puck towards the net from below the goal line and having the puck deflect off a skate and under the pad of Terrier goaltender Sean Maguire. On the next shift Jake Chelios was persistent down low on a puck battle with the Terrier defense. Chelios made a move toward the net and had his shot blocked. However, freshman Joe Cox was trailing the play and batted the puck past Maguire for the Spartans first lead of the weekend. Jake Hildebrand in net held off the Terriers offense and captain Greg Wolfe scored an empty net goal to extend the Spartans lead to 3-1.
Obviously, it's great for the Spartans to get a victory, but after 2 weekends, the biggest struggle from last season is still around. This team has to consistently score 3 or more goals if it wants to finish anywhere above 5th in the inaugural B1G hockey season. They must get the power play going and going 0-12 on a weekend is not going to help a struggling offense. Earning a split against two top 20 teams is certainly a good result for these young Spartans, however there is plenty of room for improvement.
Next Up: Next weekend the Spartans host American International at Munn Arena at 7 PM Friday night and 1 PM Sunday afternoon. The Yellow Jackets from the Atlantic Hockey Association are 1-1 on the season having lost 10-4 to Providence University and beating Sacred Heart 4-1. Anything less than a sweep is going to be disappointing as American is one of the lowest ranked teams in college hockey. Both games will be televised by Comcast.
Bonus Video: MSU doesn't play the Michigan Wolverines until possibly December in the GLI championship. Since it's hate week around here I thought I would include a UM video with a hockey twist. #BeatMichigan #GoalieFight