DETROIT — The Michigan State hockey team (14-15-1) followed up Friday night’s loss to Michigan (15-12-3) with another underwhelming performance Monday night at Little Caesars Arena, falling 4-1 at the hands of the maize and blue in the annual Duel in the D.
Despite outshooting the Wolverines 31-23 and collecting a multitude of quality scoring chances, MSU just couldn’t keep up with Michigan’s relentless offensive attack. Sophomore defenseman Dennis Cesana scored the only goal for the Spartans and senior goaltender John Lethemon capped off a rough weekend with 17 saves.
“I thought our guys worked a lot,” coach Danton Cole said. “We were a lot better than we were on Friday night. ... You have to be pretty introspective about it. These guys lay a lot out on the line, and they did a great job on Saturday, great job on Sunday and came down here and played hard. Sometimes it goes the wrong way.”
When the puck dropped signaling the start of the game, there was a sense in the arena that the stakes were high following Friday night’s result. Both teams needed to come away with a victory to bolster their resume as the regular season hits the home stretch.
It was the Wolverines who would strike first in front of a crowd dominated by their own fans. Just 5:07 into the opening period, U-M forward Will Lockwood broke loose and found an opening in between Spartan defenders Jerad Rosburg and Cesana. Coming in all alone on net, Lockwood fired one right beneath the glove of Lethemon to give the Wolverines a 1-0 lead.
It was crucial for the green and white to get the next goal and stall Michigan’s momentum. It only took one minute and eight seconds for MSU to do just that, when Cesana scored his sixth goal of the season to knot the game back up at one. Coming in on an offensive rush, sophomore forward Adam Goodsir slid a pass through the slot to Cesana, who completed the one-timer to give the Spartans new life.
With 6:26 to go in the first, the Wolverines headed to their first power play of the night. Just over one minute in, they would capitalize on it thanks to another heads-up play by Lockwood. Taking a pass cross-ice from teammate Jake Slaker, Lockwood threw a hard pass on net that was deflected in by U-M forward Jacob Hayhurst, giving the maize and blue a 2-1 lead heading into the second period.
Michigan didn’t let their foot off the gas as the second period got underway. Just 1:31 in, Cesana took a slashing penalty, sending an efficient Wolverine power play back to work. As the maize and blue settled things down in their offensive zone, the puck eventually found its way to U-M defenseman Nick Blankenburg. Blankenburg fired a wrist-shot through traffic, scoring his fourth goal of the season to put his team up 3-1.
As the period went on, the Spartans became frustrated as their scoring chances continued to be denied by U-M goaltender Strauss Mann. One of their best chances of the game came late in the second period on the power play. Josh Nodler had the puck, located almost parallel to the net with Mann out of position.
Nodler’s initial shot attempt rang off the post, hit the back of Mann’s helmet, then proceeded to hit the other goal post, keeping the green and white scoreless in the second period. Despite outshooting the Wolverines 23-16 through 40 minutes, MSU entered the final frame still down by a pair of goals.
Lockwood was in the right place at the right time once again for the Wolverines just 58 seconds into the third period. Positioned in front of the net, Lockwood tipped in a shot from the point by U-M defenseman Griffin Luce, collecting his second goal and third point of the night. The goal proved to be the dagger for the Spartans, who just didn’t have their A-game following a two day break in between games.
“We have to get back to what we were doing early in the year that made us so good,” Cesana said. “Just chipping pucks, playing hard and being protectable for each other. Just have to be more clean with our execution on plays and whatnot. It’s not that we’re not working hard, I think we worked really hard tonight. It’s just bounces didn’t go our way.”
The green and white will have a quick turnaround, as they will have four days to prepare for No. 12 Ohio State, who will visit East Lansing this weekend for a two game series. Game one will take place Friday night at 7 p.m.