Michigan State was without its leading scorer, Mitchell Lewandowski, for the game. Lewandowski hobbled off of the ice after a collision in a game against Michigan Tech in late-December. Michigan State is now 1-5 without Lewandowski in the starting lineup this season.
It was tough for the Spartans to get any creative offense going, especially being without Lewandowski. It’s why defense has been able to carry this team. It has also allowed defenseman Nash Nienhuis to get his first-career goal as a Spartan, as he sent it above Minnesota goaltender Jack Lafontaine’s left pad to bring MSU within one goal.
Three different angles of Nash Nienhuis' first-career goal as a Spartan. pic.twitter.com/9V54QxKuSQ— The Only Colors (@TheOnlyColors) January 8, 2022
That didn’t stop the Gophers’ momentum, though, as goals by Ben Meyers and Chaz Lucius propelled Minnesota to a 4-1 victory.
MSU fans were unhappy with one specific moment in the game, when junior forward Jagger Joshua collided with Lafontaine. Minnesota was on the power-play and Joshua would’ve created a shorthanded breakaway chance, only down 2-1. Lafontaine came out of his crease to defend the loose puck and Joshua sent Lafontaine’s helmet flying off.
Here's another look at the penalty that sent Joshua to the box for charging the goaltender. pic.twitter.com/oH3u7vDdAK— Brad LaPlante (@bradlaplante) January 8, 2022
In the postgame press conference, Michigan State head coach Danton Cole said he disagreed with the call, but understood why they called it.
“It was a good play by their goalie to not give us a shorthanded breakaway in a 2-1 game, but Jagger, same thing, he’s entitled to a loose puck...I’m just glad they didn’t elevate it to a five (minute major penalty),” Cole said.
Cole challenged a play minutes later when Tanner Kelly appeared to get hit in the head, ending in a review that didn’t go MSU’s way.
“I’d challenge it again,” Cole added. “(The refs) are going to look at it and are going to make their decision, and if it’s not clear to them then that’s the way it is...The refs are the least of my problems tonight.”
Michigan State was able to kill off four penalties against a Minnesota power play that converts on 26 percent of chances (second in the Big Ten). With the four consecutive successful penalty kills tonight, MSU has extended its penalty kill streak to 14, dating all the way back to the series against Notre Dame.
Nienhuis says it was a “relief” to get his first goal, but still doesn’t consider himself to be a “goal scorer.” Even though it was nice to get the goal, he adds, “It’s really nothing in the grand scheme of things,” considering the loss.
Despite the result and being outshot 36-25, Michigan State was competitive for a large part of the game. While the Spartans were able to kill off the four penalties, as mentioned, MSU was unable to covert on four power-play opportunities of its own, and spent most of the game blocking shots and defending Minnesota’s offense.
Michigan State hosts Minnesota again tomorrow night (Jan. 8) at 7:30 p.m. Eastern Time. The game will air on Big Ten Network with Ben Holden and Fred Pletsch on the call.