The Michigan State hockey team has shown some early season progress and promise but was unable to come out of a road trip to Denver with any wins to show for it. The Spartans were swept by the 5th ranked Pioneers 4-2 and 3-0 in a stiff early season test.
Friday night the Spartans were strong for almost 50 minutes, as JT Stenglein continued the fast start to his season when he scored just 1:03 into the opening period. The Spartans could not hold the lead through the entire period as Denver knotted the game up capitalizing on a turnover by the Spartans in their own zone. The second period saw both teams shoot plenty of rubber towards the net, 15 shots for Denver and 13 for the Spartans, but each goalie stood tall and we had a 1-1 game going into the final period.
The Spartans claimed the lead once again in the third period as Matt DeBlouw finished off a pass from freshman Mason Appleton on a 2-on-1 break for his first goal of the season. This lead would once again not last for long, as Denver tied the game on a bit of a defensive breakdown by the Spartans. With the puck behind the net the Spartans were caught with all five men below the hash marks, staring at the man with the puck. That man, Logan O'Connor, skated towards the corner and threaded a pass to defenseman Matt VanVoorhis at the point who with plenty of time and space let go a wrist shot that beat Jake Hildebrand on his glove side. Just over three minutes later Denver once again took advantage of a low-to-high play, this time on the other side of the net with Gabe Levin beating Hildebrand clean on his blocker side. The Pioneers added an empty net goal to bring us to our final score of 4-2.
The Spartans were victimized twice by playing a collapsing defensive style in the zone and will need to clean that up as teams will look to move the puck towards the point for wide open shots if it is not fixed.
On Saturday night the Spartans were fundamentally dominated, as they totaled just 16 shots on goal to Denver's 41. Denver scored early in the game this time, as Matt Marcinew scored the game's winning goal just 1:19 into the contest. It was once again the low-to-high play that worked for the Pioneers with Marcinew passing the puck to the point and then crashing the net to finish off the chance as the point shot was deflected off a Spartan defender in front.
In the second period Marcinew scored just 55 seconds into the period off a beautiful cycle play from the corner where Marcinew finished a pass into the slot to beat Hildebrand. In the third period Jared Lukosevicius, who assisted on the Pioneers' second goal, got into the action when after a poor play at the offensive blue line, Grant Arnold broke in on Jake Hildebrand and Lukosevicius cleaned up on an easy rebound. Overall, it was a tough showing for the Spartans as they ran into a buzzsaw Denver team who likely played their best game of the season so far.
Looking back at the 3 keys to Spartan success
- Offense from defense- 2 goals on the weekend and both were scored by forwards. In a series where the Spartans were under siege it is not hard to believe that the defenseman were concentrating on their own zone.
- Win special teams- Well the Spartans penalty kill is back this season. They haven't allowed a power play goal since Maine's first power play opportunity in the first game of the season. Michigan State is now 18-of-19 on the season in kills. However, the power play struggled this weekend, going 0-for-8 including over a minute and a half of 5-on-3 time Friday night. The Spartans aren't going to be able to pull off upset wins when they can't take advantage of power play opportunities.
- Slow the game down- Outside of the third goal Saturday the Spartans were not beat off the rush by Denver. What killed Michigan State was poor defensive zone coverage and getting beat by the low-to-high play.