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PREVIEW: MSU hockey takes on No. 14 Ohio State in penultimate home series

February 17, 2017
Sophomore forward Mason Appleton (27) takes the puck up the rink as Michigan forward Max Shuart (25) tries to take possession of the puck during the third period of the men?s hockey game against the University of Michigan on Feb. 11, 2017 at Yost Ice Arena in Ann Arbor. The Spartans defeated the Wolverines, 4-1.
Sophomore forward Mason Appleton (27) takes the puck up the rink as Michigan forward Max Shuart (25) tries to take possession of the puck during the third period of the men?s hockey game against the University of Michigan on Feb. 11, 2017 at Yost Ice Arena in Ann Arbor. The Spartans defeated the Wolverines, 4-1. —

The MSU hockey team (6-17-3 and 2-8-2 Big Ten) begins the penultimate home series of the season this weekend as the Spartans host No. 14 Ohio State University (14-8-6, 5-6-1 Big Ten) in a two-game series at Munn Ice Arena.

“(Ohio State has) an excellent power play,” head coach Tom Anastos said. “Their power play has been very dynamic. They can score in bunches. They’re a very good offensive team on a very consistent basis. I think they have depth in their lineup right now that probably more so than they’ve had the last several years. And, I know sometimes their goaltending has been maybe up or down — against us, it’s been very consistent.”

Whenever these teams face off against each other, there’s a high chance it will be a highly contested matchup. Three of the last four meetings between these two teams had to be decided in overtime with two resulting in losses and one ending in a draw and shootout win for MSU. Since the 2013-14 season, seven of the 13 contests between the two went into an overtime period.

The Spartans lead the all-time series 88-34-12, and have a home record of 45-12-6.

Senior forward and captain Joe Cox is the Spartans’ active leading scorer against Ohio State with a scoring line of 3-3-6 in 14 career games.

With four goals in both games last weekend against the University of Michigan, the Spartans are averaging 3.5 goals per game in the month of February. They enter this weekend’s contest No. 16 in the nation during the month in that category.

The Spartans had two shorthanded goals in their Feb. 11 victory over U-M putting MSU’s season total at five, which is No. 14 in the NCAA. The Spartans' five shorthanded goals this season are the most shorthanded goals for the Spartans since 2009-10 when they had five.

Sophomore forward Mason Appleton has consistently been the Spartans’ leader in points and goals. Entering Friday’s game, the 6-foot-2 sophomore has a career-best 23 points and 10 goals on the season.

While the Spartans are coming off a win and a draw against U-M , the Buckeyes enter this weekend after a series split with No. 5 Minnesota last weekend.

The Buckeyes lead the nation in goals with 116 and power play percentage with 29.7 percent, while their 4.14 goals-per game average is No. 2 in the nation.

“They have a good team,” senior forward Thomas Ebbing said. “Obviously, their record shows that. I think that they’re fast. They work well together, but I think the way we’ve been playing the past few games, I think that we can match their intensity. I think that’s the biggest thing is matching their intensity, especially at home in front of the home crowd.”

Ohio State is led by senior Nick Schilkey and sophomore Mason Jobst. Schilkey has 22 goals on the season, which leads the Big Ten and ranks No. 3 nationally, and Jobst ranks No. 2 in the Big Ten with 40 points.

As the Spartans are dealing with a potential goalie competition, the Buckeyes have split netminder duties between seniors Christian Frey and Matt Tomkins. In 15 games played, Tomkins has an overall record of 8-2-3 and holds a season save percentage of .899. Frey has accumulated a season record of 6-6-3 and enters Friday’s game with a .911 save percentage.

For MSU to win this weekend, Anastos said his team’s ability to effectively defend will be vital for the Spartans.

“The one area that to me we have to continue to get better at is defending,” he said. “Whether it’s shorthanded situations ,or certainly even strength situations, we’ve got to get better at keeping the puck out of our net. So while we did a decent job of that last weekend, we’re going to be tested to a very high level starting this week moving forward the remainder of the year, so we’ve got to continue to up our game there.”

The Spartans begin the first of their two-game home series against No. 14 Ohio State on Friday night, and then will close the series on Saturday at 7:05 p.m. Both games can be viewed on BTN Plus.

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