MSU hockey special teams improving as season progresses
Throughout the 2016-17 season, MSU hockey head coach Tom Anastos has pinpointed his team’s lulls on special teams as one of the reasons the Spartans are experiencing a substandard season.
With 12 games remaining until the Big Ten Tournament, the Spartans are beginning to turn around the inadequate part of their game.
Entering this weekend’s two-game series against No. 18 Wisconsin, the Spartans — currently No. 43 in the NCAA on the power play and No. 59 on the penalty kill — have scored on the man-advantage in each of their last five games, which is the first since February 2012 when MSU registered a power-play goal in six-straight contests.
After not allowing the University of Michigan to score a power-play goal on seven attempts on the man-advantage, MSU has not allowed a power-play goal in three of the last five games, killing 18-of-21 opposing attempts.
“While our season-long percentage hasn’t been all that great, if you look over the past two months, it’s pretty darn good,” Anastos said. “It’s really evolving. Our penalty kill, which started so poorly, I think is coming. It still has a ways to go, but it’s coming, we’re gaining some confidence.
“I think we’re gaining a better understanding of what we need to do. And as I’ve said before, your goalie has to be your best penalty killer, and I thought (Ed Minney has) done a pretty good job with that as of late.”
Anastos said he believes the recent surge of special team productivity is linked to the younger players gaining experience on the ice.
“We’ve tweaked a few things,” Anastos said. “We’ve moved some guys around, trying to find the best spots for them. I think guys have gained experience. The one unit has two sophomores and two freshman on it, so it takes time to gain some experience.”
Sophomore forward Mason Appleton, who currently leads the Spartans in goals and points thus far this season, has scored seven of his nine goals on the man-advantage. His seven goals on the power play is tied for ninth most in the nation, and is the most by a Spartan since Torey Krug had seven in the 2011-12 season.
“Special teams are really important all the way through the year,” Appleton said. “It’s a focus of ours every week to try to win the special teams battle. So obviously, have more power-play goals than them and give up less penalty kill goals. And I think our penalty kill has come a long way as well. So I think, this is obviously an important time of the year where your special teams needs to click, and I think that’s happening for us.”
Sophomore defenseman Zach Osburn said the team’s performance on the power play as of late is a step in the right direction.
“Well, that’s huge when those things start to jell, the whole team starts to jell,” he said. “I think right now, coming off a good weekend against Michigan, I think we’re going to be pretty good in that category. Also, the season is a rollercoaster, and we were in a downslope on that one, but I think our special teams is on the rise right now. So, we just got to have to ride the rollercoaster throughout the season.”
The Spartans will commence their two-game home series against Wisconsin on Friday at 7 p.m. and then will conclude the series on Saturday at 7 p.m. Both games can be streamed on BTN2GO.