Hopefully some time away from classes, time spent with family and a break from the grind has done the Michigan State hockey team some good, because they have an uphill climb and a lot of mistakes to fix from a 5-11-2 start. The Spartans have gone 1-8-1 in their last ten contests culminating with a listless effort in a loss at Northeastern 2-1 on December 19. The only good thing to come from that loss was that the game could have been much worse than it's 2-1 ending, yet the old Jake Hildebrand seemed to return to the net, saving his team from further embarassment.
The second half of the season begins like it always does, with the Spartans playing in Detroit at the 51st Annual Great Lakes Invitational. This year the regulars, Michigan Tech, Michigan and Michigan State, will be joined by Northern Michigan in the two day tournament. The Spartans and Huskies open play today at 3:30, a rematch of an earlier season series where the Spartans twice blew third period leads and were only able to salvage one tie from the Huskies' visit.
Time: 3:30 P.M.
Location: Joe Louis Arena. Detroit, MI
TV/Streaming: Fox Sports Detroit. Streaming on BTN2Go
Radio: Spartan Sports Network
Back on November 21 and 22 the Spartans suffered a defeat and tie to the Huskies respectively. Michigan State held third period leads with under three minutes to play both nights but failed to close out against the the then ranked Huskies on home ice. The second game of the series saw Jake Hildebrand pulled in the first period after two quick goals and the Spartans climbed back to take the lead before again surrendering it late to the visiting team. This game Tuesday will mark the 6th time in 3 seasons these two teams have met, with the Spartans seeking their first win.
Up front Alex Petan (10G, 9A) leads the Huskies in points and he has been a nuisance for the Spartans. Petan was held to just a goal in the previous series this season which was a great improvement over the damage he did against Michigan State in 2013. The Huskies leading goal scorer is Tyler Heinonen (11G, 7A) who padded his stats in November against Michigan State with 3 goals and 3 assists in the 2 games.
In net the Huskies have received consistent play from Jamie Phillips with a .916 save percentage and 2.20 goals against average. The Spartans offense did not struggle in beating Phillips to the tune of 8 goals in their previous series and finding that type of success again will be crucial. The Spartans are 56-11-7 when scoring three or more goals in a game under coach Tom Anastos, and they have only scored more than 2 goals once since the series against the Huskies, their sole win a 4-3 victory over Wisconsin.
This game will feature a huge mismatch in possession statistics, with the Huskies holding the 9th best Corst For percentage in the country (54.9%) and the Spartans at 43rd in the country (47.9%). The Spartans once again lead the country in blocked shots, something they take pride in mentioning, but that also points to a lack of time spent with the puck for the Spartans. Jake Hildebrand will have to lead the way from his net out if the Spartans are to get to the GLI Championship Game, as the Spartans are likely to be overwhelmed in a track meet.
3 Keys to Spartan Success
- Jake Hildebrand- As mentioned above Hildy will need to lead his team against a foe that possesses the puck so much better. If this game can end 2-1, 3-2 I like the Spartans chances, but getting into a track meet like the games in November does not play to the Spartans' strengths. Michigan State has struggled all season to get good play from their defenseman and counting on them to make smart plays in a wide open contest is ill advised.
- Get a 2nd line going- Early in the season the Spartans consistently were getting points from their first two lines. Lately the Spartans have had one line going on a given night, if they have a line going at all. It would be nice to see Mackenzie MacEachern and JT Stenglein pick up their games.
- Be Boring- The Spartans showed some offensive sizzle early in the season with the only problem being the increased emphasis on goals led to defensive mistakes. To win today the Spartans will have to crawl back into their boring shell they have come to be known for under coach Tom Anastos. It's not what you should be hoping for in a coach's fifth year but with the depth issues along the blue line here we are.
Yeah, we need a break," Anastos said. "We were hoping to get out of (Northeastern) and feel a little better about ourselves. We didn’t get that. So, we need a break, and hopefully can reboot ourselves and get ready to have a better performance in the second half.
-Tom Anastos in this College Hockey News post.
The Huskies have an offense with a lot of confidence and it's hard to believe the Spartans have fixed all their problems over a holiday break. I'll say the Huskies win this game 4-2.
Around the B1G
Michigan is also in the GLI, playing in the 2nd semi-final game at 7:00 against the Northern Michigan Wildcats. Penn State is playing in the Three Rivers Classic in Pittsburgh and suffered a 6-4 loss to Robert Morris last night and will now play Clarkson at 4:30 today. Ohio State scored a huge upset at the Florida College Classic defeating Boston College 3-2. Minnesota plays UConn at their Mariucci Classic on Friday and will play Ferris State or Harvard on Friday. Wisconsin is playing an exhibition game Friday against Trinity Western.