With four games remaining in the 2016-17 regular season, the MSU hockey team will conclude its season series against No. 13 Ohio State University this weekend.
The weekend marks the second series of the season between the two teams in the last three weeks.
While the Spartans hold the edge in the all-time series 88-36-12, the Buckeyes swept MSU in the first series this season by winning 3-2 and then 4-3.
“Obviously, we played them just a couple weeks ago,” head coach Tom Anastos said. “We know what to expect. They know what to expect from us. I watched them play against Michigan Saturday night. They were flat. … and they’ll come off that game real hungry, so we’re going to have to be ready to play when that puck drops on Friday night.”
The Buckeyes, who are coming off a series split against the University of Michigan, are currently No. 1 in power play efficiency as they have converted 39 of 131 attempts on the man-advantage. The Buckeyes are also No. 2 in total goals scored this season with 127 and No. 3 in goals per game, averaging 3.97.
The No. 13 Buckeyes are led by Nick Schilkey, who is the Big Ten leader in goals with 24, while sophomore forward Mason Jobst’s 42 points rank No. 2 in the conference.
After coming off their second weekend sweep by Penn State University last weekend, linemates Mason Appleton and Taro Hirose continue to be the Spartans’ leaders in scoring. Appleton leads MSU in goals with 11 and points with 25 and Hirose enters Friday with a team-high 16 assists.
Both the Nittany Lions and the Buckeyes are amongst the nation’s best goal scoring teams. Senior forward and captain Joe Cox said the opportunity to play these high-powered offensive teams back-to-back allows the Spartans to work on needed aspects of their game.
”It’s definitely giving us the chance to work on our defensive positioning, our defensive aspect of the game,” Cox said. “I think we’ve actually come a long way from that. I think you see guys figuring out where they’re supposed to start picking up guys and things of that such, so I think it’s good for the team to face a good offensive team like that.”
In his seven games against the Buckeyes, Appleton averages nearly a point per game and has recorded a point in all but one game in his career against the conference rival.
Hirose’s 22 points on the season rank him No. 6 amongst Big Ten freshmen and equals the total of last season’s top producing Spartan rookie — Appleton.
Although the Spartans rank No. 57 in the nation on the penalty kill, MSU registered a 81.1 percent penalty kill percentage during the month of February, which ranked the Spartans No. 2 in the league during that month.
The Spartans continue to swap goaltenders as of late. Both junior netminder Ed Minney and freshman John Lethemon started four games in net last month. Lethemon led all Big Ten goaltenders during February with a 2.80 goals-against average and was No. 3 in the conference during the month with a .898 save percentage.
Cox said in order to reverse fortunes this series against Ohio State, defensive zone play efficiency will be vital to stopping the Buckeyes.
“I think we need to really crack down on our defensive zone and denying our defensive blueline, because we know how powerful their offense is and they love to strike off the offensive rush,” he said. “I think our blueline denial, we’ll have to work on that a bit and just picking up guys in our zone and making sure they don’t get easy opportunities.”
The Spartans will begin the two-game series against Ohio State on Friday at 7 p.m. and will conclude the series on Saturday at 8 p.m.
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