In the words of the rapper Atmosphere the Spartans are trying to find a balance, trying to build a balance. After three seasons as a team who struggled to score with any modicum of consistency, the Spartans have found their offensive stride, now scoring four or more goals in five straight games. Unfortunately, perhaps due to the increased risks taken on offense, the Spartans have lost their way defensively. That was on full display this weekend as the Spartans lost an overtime heart breaker and had a frustrating tie against the Michigan Tech Huskies.
On Saturday night the Spartans started the third period with a 4-3 lead but gave up the tying goal with less than two minutes remaining, and then surrendered the winning goal in overtime with just 51 seconds left in the game. It was a strong effort by the Spartans to have had that lead in the third period, as like last week against the Boston College Eagles the Spartans were under fire in the first period.
The Huskies outshot the Spartans 14-7 in the first period but actually trailed the home team 2-1 after 20 minutes, Michigan Tech opened the scoring when Alex Petan entered the zone making a drop pass to Mike Neville who put a slap shot on net. Jake Hildebrand didn't control the rebound and the Spartans' defender didn't block out Petan who drove the net and deposited the rebound past Hildebrand. Just over three minutes later Joe Cox bested Tech goalie Jamie Phillips on a backhand shot that sneaked through the goaltenders' pads. The Spartans would score again in three minutes when freshman Zach Osburn scored on the power play, blasting home a one time pass from fellow freshman Mason Appleton.
The second period saw goals come in quick spurts, with the Spartans scoring first at 8:39, again on the power play, this time being Mackenzie MacEachern getting behind the defense on a neutral zone pass and beating Phillips going left to right across the goal mouth. Just 1:06 later Michigan Tech would answer on a wrist shot from the point that had eyes, as it avoided multiple players on it;s way past Hildebrand. At 12:13 Michigan Tech would tie the game when Tyler Heinonen sent a slap shot past Hildebrand low to the glove side, which is one that Hildebrand stops when he is at the top of his game. The Spartans would rebound quickly however, when new goal scoring savant JT Stenglein bested Phillips with a slap shot along the ice.
The Huskies tying goal came with just 1:40 seconds remaining in the third period, again with a point shot that went through a ton of traffic to beat Hildebrand. You would like to see the defenders at the point possibly be better at blocking shots, which is surprising since that has been a staple of Anastos' teams. In overtime Travis Walsh blocked a shot off of a faceoff and was hurt, leading to an open shot in front for the Huskies. Hildebrand made the initial save but Heinonen put home the rebound to vault the Huskies to victory.
(This is all Michigan Tech goals since MSU does not post highlights of losses to YouTube. The struggles of being a hockey writer)
Sunday afternoon saw Jake Hildebrand continue to struggle in net, as he was pulled just 7:22 into the game after surrendering two goals on six shots. The game began fast for the Huskies as Jake Lucchini tipped a backhand past Hildebrand after the puck bounced off the boards behind the net 1:08 into the contest. It was a weak goal by Hildebrand standards and showed he was a little off on Sunday. The Spartans would answer just over two minutes later when Joe Cox collected the puck after an offensive zone faceoff and from the corner sent a pass to Thomas Ebbing who put the puck into a gaping net. At 7:22 Hildebrand's day was over as he was bested by a point shot for the third time on the weekend, this time by Patrick Anderson. It's weird to be saying this but I thought the call to pull Hildebrand was good, at that point he was not going to give the team the best chance to win as both goals were soft by his high standard.
The Spartans were able to tie the game before the end of the first period when Michael Ferrantino put a hell of a wrist shot past Phillips from dead center in the slot. The second period saw only one goal, when freshman MacEachern again scored on the power play, this time on a 5 on 3, when he scored on an empty net following a rebound from a Ferrantino shot. The third period began good for the Spartans as freshman Brennan Sanford scored following a no look backhand pass from Connor Wood, just 1:44 into the third period.
Sophomore goaltender Edwin Minney, playing for the first time in the regular season in his career, had acclimated well making 12 saves heading into the final period and made 22 saves between the third period and overtime. Howeverm it was two saves Minney wasn't able to make that was the difference between a frustrating tie and a well deserved first win. At 16:07 in the third Heinonen scored his 3rd goal of the weekend on a pass where he was left open in front. The Huskies tied the game with just 51 seconds remaining and the goalie pulled Malcolm Gould tied the game following a net front scramble where the Spartan defenders failed to pick up sticks and tie up the Huskies.
Looking back at the keys to success
- Keep JT Stenglein hot- JT extended his goal streak to five games Saturday, but was held to just an assist Sunday. Stenglein and MacEachern are tied for the team lead with 13 points and 7 goals each.
- Discipline- The Spartans gave the Huskies just four power play opportunities and killed each of those chances off.
- Defensive backline- The Spartans played just 5 defenseman on Sunday and there were struggles both nights. While some of the goals were soft for Hildebrand, there is definitely defensive concerns with the loss of Josh Jacobs to the OHL this past offseason. With the offense being more proactive the defenseman need to make strides to play better.
Around the B1G
Michigan went on the road against Boston University earning a split winning Saturday 4-2 after losing Friday 3-2. Penn State defeated Alaska-Anchorage 5-2 Friday before playing to a 1-1 tie Saturday. Wisconsin continued to play better than preseason expectations tying Denver on the road 3-3 Friday before falling 6-2 Saturday.
The Spartans host #5 North Dakota in a Friday-Sunday series at Munn Arena.