Coming off a sweep at Penn State, the Michigan State hockey team (5-7-2) is looking to get back in the win column as they return home this weekend to take on Ohio State (4-9-1) Saturday and Sunday at Munn Ice Arena.
Ohio State is also coming off a series where they got swept but at the hands of their rival Michigan. In that series, they were outscored 9 to 2 and have won just one of their past five games.
The Spartans fared fairly well against the Buckeyes earlier this season. The Buckeyes were ranked No. 10 at the time during their first series at the end of November. In the first game, MSU was victorious thanks to a Nicolas Müller's game-winner after giving up a goal with less than a minute left to force overtime. The next day, Ohio State took the win with a 4-2 score.
Michigan State Head Coach Danton Cole said there is a little bit that they can take from that series, but a lot of practice has been focused on themselves.
“Everybody evolves a little bit," Cole said. "Year over year though (Steve) Rohlik does a good job there. There's always little bumps there but nothing drastic. You take a little bit out of them and obviously you make adjustments, and you’re ready for things. Right now, at least this part of the week, for us Sunday, Monday and Tuesday the focus was on us and getting some things straightened out that we as a staff thought we had to address."
One of those key areas that need improvement from Michigan State’s side is the offense.
The Spartans average a measly 1.9 goals per game, ranking near the bottom in the country. Senior center Tommy Apap believes that improving the forecheck is a good step in the right direction to scoring more goals and alleviating some pressure off Drew DeRidder.
“I think it’s just about creating more chances," Apap said. "It is easy to just say that, but really I think the way to do that is to get our forecheck going. If we get our forecheck going, their (defense) are coughing pucks up more, we are buzzing around their net more and we will even have a lot more second chances. ... It’s about all five guys going together. If just one or two guys are going on the forecheck, then it might not work."
The power play also needs improvement. The Spartans have scored just three power-play goals this season, one of the fewest in the country. Two of those were against Ohio State though, both by graduate student Charlie Combs, offering an opportunity to get back on track.
On the other hand, Ohio State has one of the better power plays in the country. So far, they have scored 12 power-play goals, which is tied for the eighth-best in the country.
Freshman Travis Treloar has been a stud for the Buckeyes tied for the team lead in goals (5), and leading the team in both assists (8) and points (13). Other players to watch include sophomore Mark Cheremeta and juniors Quinn Preston and Gustaf Westlund.
Senior Tommy Nappier, the reigning Big Ten Goaltender of the Year, has started all 14 games in net for OSU but has not been nearly as good as last season. This year, he has a 3.01 goals-against average along with a .913 save percentage.
As for Michigan State, sophomore center Josh Nodler has scored two goals in the last three games and now leads the team in points with nine. Drew DeRidder continues to be fantastic in net and is now eighth in the country and second in the Big Ten in save percentage at .936.
Michigan State and Ohio State currently sit at the bottom of the Big Ten standings with just one point separating OSU (13) from MSU (12). However, besides the conference-leading Golden Gophers, just seven points separate Wisconsin and Michigan State from second place to last place. With a sweep from either OSU or MSU this weekend, there could be some real separation in the Big Ten standings.
Both games start at 4 p.m. with Saturday’s game being televised on Big Ten Network.
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