Just four games remain in the regular season for the Michigan State men’s ice hockey team: a two-game series against Notre Dame and a two-game series against Penn State. All four games are at home. Then comes the Big Ten Tournament.
Despite some hope earlier in the season, MSU is back in a familiar place. The Spartans are 5-15 in Big Ten play and dead-last in the conference standings. Riding a 10-game losing streak, MSU is looking to snap out of this funk, which has led to zero wins since defeating Michigan Tech in overtime back in December.
Last weekend, Michigan State was dominated by in-state rival Michigan. The Wolverines handed MSU two consecutive losses, 6-2 in Ann Arbor and 7-3 in Detroit. It was the latest chapter in a rivalry that has been all Michigan since 2016. Michigan State is 0-4 against its biggest rival this year.
The Spartans allowed two short-handed goals within two minutes against Michigan, which was out of character, even for Michigan State. MSU’s power-play ranks No. 18 in college hockey at .220 percent. It’s a massive improvement from last year (.072 percent).
The penalty-kill has been better, good for No. 30 in college hockey this season (.815 percent). In January, Minnesota snapped Michigan State’s season-high streak of 17 consecutive penalties killed off.
Senior forward Mitchell Lewandowski has been out with injury since the Great Lakes Invitational, which has been devastating. Michigan State is 1-14 without him in the starting lineup this season. He was practicing on Tuesday, but there’s no official update on whether he’ll return this weekend.
“We’ve missed Lewie a huge amount,” senior defenseman Nash Nienhuis said. “He’s a great player, and he scores goals.”
Michigan State started to gain some momentum after facing off with Notre Dame back in December. The matchup in South Bend, Indiana resulted in a 3-2 loss the first night and a 1-0 overtime win the following night, with Lewandowski notching the game-winner.
Notre Dame is one of the best teams in the Big Ten. Right now, the Fighting Irish are 20-8 overall and 12-6 in conference play, with 32 points. Notre Dame has a tough defense, which could cause problems for MSU if unable to be creative on offense. The Spartans have luckily been able to find defensive scoring from freshman David Gucciardi, along with Nienhuis and Dennis Cesana.
At 2.2 goals allowed per game, Notre Dame is difficult to score on. That’s first in the Big Ten and No. 8 nationally. MSU’s penalty-kill has been impressive, but Notre Dame’s is better, holding teams to a .073 conversion percentage. That is No. 1 in college hockey.
Junior forward Max Ellis leads the Fighting Irish in goals with 16. Senior defenseman Spencer Stastney will also be a key player to look out for as he leads Notre Dame in assists (17) and is not afraid to score. Stastney scored two of Notre Dame’s three goals against MSU earlier this season.
Puck drop is at 7 p.m. at Munn Ice Arena on Friday and Saturday night. Both games will air on BTN+.