MSU hockey looks to stop skid against Wisconsin
MSU hockey (4-9-2) has more or less swept its past four games under the rug; at least that’s the sentiment from the locker room as it prepares to take on Wisconsin (3-6-5) for a two-game series at Munn Ice Arena this weekend.
It’s a matchup of two desperate teams, as neither has a win in their last five games. MSU is winless in the last seven games, last picking up a win over New Hampshire on Nov. 7.
MSU and Wisconsin will play at 7:05 p.m. on Friday and at 2:35 p.m. on Saturday.
It’s been an ugly skid for MSU as just about every promising attempt to win has been halted by its inability to play a complete game. It’s either been too slow a start or a lack of focus late in games that’ve been the poison for MSU. Just about everything has been going wrong after a couple encouraging victories.
The Spartans haven’t scored more than two goals in a game since Nov. 22 and have given up an uncharacteristic 3.40 goals per game. The team defense is lagging and the offense that was averaging three goals a game through 13 games has sputtered.
Like Jekyll and Hyde, MSU is struggling to find its identity largely because it doesn’t have one. It can’t seem to manufacture one either. Head coach Tom Anastos has tried many things to light a fire — line up changes, goaltender rotations and different schemes, no fruit for their labors.
But with all of the mishaps and mistakes, there is one more thing Anastos believes can turn their fortunes around and boost moral.
“We’re trying to reset the bar, reset our focus to get back to basics,” head coach Tom Anastos said. “We’ve got to be much better defensively, fundamentally and tougher to score against, and build from there.”
What may be more encouraging for MSU is the words Michael Ferrantino has reiterated to his team.
“For us it’s about getting back to having fun and just going out and playing hockey,” Ferrantino said. “We all started playing this game cause we loved it and having a hell of a time playing it so we’re getting back to that this week.”
Simplicity will be needed this weekend if MSU is to keep a hungry and desperate Badger team at bay. A much improved Badger team is gunning to make a statement that they are competitors again. They’ve proven it so far, playing tough with Michigan this past weekend and defeating North Dakota — a team MSU struggled against just a mere two weeks ago.
“They just had a lot of young talent last year which is a little more experienced, they’ve added some talent this year so they’re a talented team,” Anastos said.
One aspect of Wisconsin, which is flying high right now is the power play. Ranked No. 10 in the nation in terms of power play success, 13 of 38, or 34 percent, of their goals have come off the power play.
MSU’s penalty kill will have to face another test, after fairing particularly well against a potent Penn State power play, killing eight of 10 Nittany Lions' chances. MSU will have to stay out of the box as well, something they’ve struggled with; averaging 10.20 penalty minutes a game.
Outside of special teams, neither team has much of an advantage. Both goaltenders have had weak starts to the year with Jake Hildebrand’s save percentage hovering right at .900 and Wisconsin goaltender, Matt Jurusik’s, sitting at .895.
Wisconsin might have the higher confidence level entering the game, coming off a weekend which saw them put up 10 goals combined in a loss and tie to then No. 12 ranked Michigan. Again, though, for the Spartans it will be whether or not they can find simplicity on the ice.
“Obviously last weekend definitely wasn’t what we wanted,” senior forward Joe Cox said of his team's play and what they need to do to win. “Just strip it down to the fundamentals and make it a simpler game.”