After improving on defense, the Spartans aim to boost offense
Four games into the season, the MSU hockey team is still winless. The Spartans will aim to get its first victory when it hosts Princeton University this weekend.
Before that, though, the team will need to improve its performance, specifically in the opposing team’s zone.
The Spartans showed an enhanced defensive effort last time out when they hosted then-No. 6 University of Denver last weekend. But on the offensive side of things, they were only able to notch two goals in the series.
During last week's practice, senior captain Joe Cox said the team looked to emphasize being better defensively. After a rough showing against the Pioneers offensively, the Spartans’ focus on their game will be vastly different.
“(Offense) is definitely an emphasis for this week,” Cox said. “Last week we took an emphasis on our defensive game and our special teams game. This week we’re looking at how can we produce more offensively?”
Looking at the young season, the team is averaging just 1.5 goals per game, scoring six total times all year. Head coach Tom Anastos stressed the fact that the offensive output must improve in order to be competitive.
Anastos said his team needs to create more of its own scoring opportunities through a better transition game. In order to do that, the team will look to add some pressure down-low in the opposing team’s zone.
“We have to do a better job of creating more net-front presence and more shots on that,” Anastos said. “Our shots, especially our high-quality shots, are missing the net too often. That’s just not a good characteristic.”
There were many times the team would dump it in the Denver zone or lose possession in the neutral zone trying to advance the puck. As a result, Anastos said MSU has to control the puck better and create the resistance necessary to score.
“We need to transition the puck with possession both out of our zone and in the neutral zone,” Anastos said. “We have to get better at it, because we did a lot of dumping the puck in. When you dump it in, even in the best case scenario, your percentages of getting it back are pretty low.”
When the Spartans found the back of the net last weekend, the same underclassmen were on the ice both times. Freshmen Patrick Khodorenko and Taro Hirose joined sophomore Mason Appleton to connect on the crowd-pleasing scores.
Appleton, who was named to the preseason Big Ten Watch List, is the most experienced forward of the trio. Working side-by-side with them and with plenty of youth, Appleton said he believes they’ll only grow as a unit.
“It’s really nice playing with (Khodorenko and Hirose),” Appleton said. “They’ve got good brains, good skillset, so I think that as a line we’re going to continue to get better and better … I think we can definitely score more and generate more consistent offense.”
Along with Appleton’s line, Anastos was impressed by one of his more experienced lines. The group of redshirt-senior Connor Wood and sophomores Cody Milan and Brennan Sanford showed improvements, Anastos said.
“I thought the (Wood, Milan, Sanford) line was really effective this weekend,” Anastos said. “I thought they played with a lot of energy and they played with speed. They made some good things happen.”
After a boost in confidence in the locker room hanging with a top-10 team, Appleton said his team will look to get better through practice.
“I think that we’re going to be focusing on that in the weekend,” Appleton said. “Getting pucks to the net, not missing the net. Stopping there for rebounds, doing the little things, the little details. I think that it’ll pay off for our game Friday.”
The Spartans will host Princeton on Oct. 28 at Munn Ice Arena, where puck drop is scheduled for 7:05 p.m.