It was a less than stellar home opening weekend for the Michigan State Spartans, as they came out completely flat on Thursday night, losing to the Lake Superior State Lakers 4-2. Luckily for the Spartans they played better on Friday to get a 2-0 win, salvaging a split against a young Lakers team.
Thursday night saw the Spartans play an uninspiring game, in front of a far from capacity crowd of just over 3,000 fans. The Spartans actually held a lead after the first period, with defenseman John Draeger scoring on a wonderful wrist shot. In the second period the Lakers were all over the Spartans, scoring three goals in around 8 minutes, with the middle goal coming shorthanded. The Spartans would make a push to come back early in the third period when Mackenzie MacEachern, who had assisted on the Draeger goal, scored his third goal of the season just over two minutes into the third. The Spartans got ten shots on net in the third period, and had a power play opportunity in the last two minutes of the game. With Hildebrand pulled and a 6-on-4 advantage the Spartans couldn't beat Gordon Defiel, and the Lakers scored an empty net goal when Gage Torrel gathered the puck just after stepping out of the box.
Coach Tom Anastos in his post-game comments to MSUSpartans.com writer Neil Koepke was not impressed with his team's efforts:
We talk about fundamentals all the time but we didn’t execute fundamental hockey tonight – passing, receiving, getting open without the puck, getting to the net, creating traffic in front, shooting the puck when you have good opportunities and hitting the net. Those are all simplistic things, so no matter what you try strategically, it doesn’t really matter if you’re not executing fundamentally.
Friday night the Spartans rebounded to save some face and get their first victory at home in 2015-16. JT Stenglein continued his surprising hot start to his junior season by opening the scoring with 20 seconds remaining in the first period. Stenglein got the puck in the face-off dot on the near side boards and made a great play with his eyes freezing the defenseman in front of the net thinking that Stenglein may pass to a streaking forward, Instead Stenglein skated to the slot area on his forehand, faked a shot freezing the Lakers netminder and then going backhand around the goaltender on a beautiful goal.
Late in the second period Stenglein added to his team leading seven points with an assist on Thomas Ebbing's goal. The Stenglein, Cox and Ebbing line did great work down below the goal line to gather possession and Stenglein went low-to-high passing the puck to Rhett Holland at the point. Holland let a shot go on the net where Ebbing was able to tip the puck on its way through and it had just enough steam to trickle past the goalie. The Spartans wore down the Lakers late, allowing just 6 shots in the 2nd period and 5 shots in the third period to get Jake Hildebrand his first shutout of the season.
Looking back at the 3 keys to success
- Penalty Kill- This was one of the few successes all weekend for the Spartans, They once again did not allow a power play goal killing all seven opportunities for the Lakers.
- Better D Zone Coverage- This is still a work in progress for the Spartans. The first goal by the Lakers on Thursday was scored on a turnover but the other goals were in transition. It was certainly an improvement over the Denver series.
- Mackenzie MacEachern- MacEachern had a goal and an assist Friday night. MacEachern is still the most important forward on the roster but he has received help from Stenglein (3 goals, 4 assists) and freshman Mason Appleton (5 assists) in the early season.