I came up with three things that the Spartans had to do in order to secure a win against Wisconsin on Friday night. First, they had to control transition play, especially in the neutral zone. They needed to force Wisconsin to have to shoot from the perimeter. Finally, they needed to capitalize on the scoring chances that they generated. Ironically enough, Wisconsin did these three things for the first 49 minutes of the game. Wisconsin dominated this hockey game in all three zones and the 6-3 final score does not do their performance justice.
The Spartans settled for mediocre scoring chances, had no answer for a faster, smarter Wisconsin team through the neutral zone and failed to capitalize when they needed to. Additionally, the Spartans suffered from defensive breakdowns and turnovers that granted extra opportunities to a Wisconsin team that was staggeringly efficient in the offensive zone.
Michigan State lost forward Taro Hirose early in the game to a game misconduct that he definitely earned. It looked like a knee to knee hit, which is always scary, for both players. In his absence, the Spartans rotated Brennan Sanford and Thomas Ebbing with Mason Appleton and Joe Cox on the top line. It was not until late in the game that Brennan Sanford seemed to find a few good shifts and the line finally generated some quality chances.
The defensemen had a tough game. Wisconsin scored five times on their first thirteen shots. Not only did Wisconsin do a much better job of creating high-quality chances, they capitalized on them consistently. Much of this had to do with the fact that MSU was not physical enough on Wisconsin’s top players. Wisconsin was exceptional at managing their time and space and keeping the Spartan defensemen off-balance all night.
The performance of the team had a tremendous effect on how the goalies played. When a team has such a sloppy, incomplete performance, the goalie will be left out to dry on numerous occasions. And unfortunately, MSU is not good enough in net to have their goalies be left out to dry like that. Ed Minney allowed 3 goals on ten shots and was replaced by John Lethemon during the first intermission. But Lethemon did not fare much better than Minney as he allowed two goals on the first four shots he faced before a clean third period (besides an empty netter).
Now, all that went out the window for the final eleven or so minutes. MSU started to play with some urgency after Patrick Khodorenko picked up his second goal of the night a little after the midway point of the period. A few minutes later, Sam Saliba scored to bring MSU within two goals. For just over the final two minutes, MSU emptied the net to hopefully try and tie the game. However, the Spartans would not find the twine again and Wisconsin would extend their lead back to three by way of an empty net goal with twelve seconds left to play sealing a 6-3 Badger win.
MSU did not play like a team that seemed to be well-coached or in sync. The last half of the third period left room for optimism. However, it is a mark of a poorly-coached team that there is this much inconsistency every weekend. The only consistency that MSU has found is that they have been bad in all phases of the game on an alarmingly consistent basis. Should Wisconsin finish the sweep emphatically, there’s going to be plenty of reason to believe that there need to be serious changes made behind the bench. The talent is there, as is the effort. But simply put, this is a team that is being held back by issues that are fixable. I am not confident that the current staff is capable of overcoming these issue.
The rest of the Big Ten
Minnesota crushed Penn State 5-1 at home. Penn State is still winless since achieving the top spot in the national poll a few weeks ago.
Michigan downed a solid Ohio State team 5-4 in Ann Arbor. Tomorrow becomes a must-win for both teams. Ohio State needs to maintain footing in the Big Ten standings and Michigan looks to build momentum with a sweep.
Notre Dame, who will be joining the Big Ten as a hockey affiliate starting next season, tied with Vermont 4-4. They are not likely to make much noise in the Hockey East or the national tournament, should they even qualify.
Around the country
Air Force won again, this time a 6-1 victory over Bentley. They should secure the sweep tomorrow night.
Boston University continues to build on an impressive season with a 3-1 victory over an underwhelming UMass team.
Boston College won on the road at New Hampshire, as expected. Both Boston schools should meet in the Hockey East tournament and are both probably going to make the national tournament regardless of who wins the Hockey East.
North Dakota was upset at home by St. Cloud State. They are among a few national powers who have had a season to forget.
Western Michigan defended home ice against Arizona State. They’ll go for the sweep Saturday night.