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Spartans' power play comes to life in series split with Arizona State

February 18, 2021
<p>Action at the Arizona State University net during the game on Feb. 15, 2021 at Munn Ice Arena.</p>

Action at the Arizona State University net during the game on Feb. 15, 2021 at Munn Ice Arena.

Photo by Jillian Felton | The State News

For over a month, the Michigan State power play was damn-near hard to watch: They had not scored a power-play goal since Jan. 4.

But with a two-week break without any games for the Spartans, they were perhaps able to focus a little bit more on themselves in practice, instead of focusing on the opponent that was upcoming.

One of those areas that looks like it was a point of emphasis for head coach Danton Cole and the staff was the power play. Improvements were evident in Michigan State’s split series against Arizona State Sunday and Monday with an MSU power-play goal on Sunday and another one just a single second after the expiration of a power play Monday.

Of course, when senior forward Mitchell Lewandowski scored his power-play goal Sunday, it very well would not have counted if the referees did not review it after the game was thought to be over.

But it ended up being a power-play goal, ending an eight-game streak without a power-play goal for the green and white.

Then again Monday, it looked like the Spartans had scored a power-play goal at 15:41 in the first period on a shot from sophomore forward Nicolas Müller that rang off the pipe. Looking at a video after the game, it looked like the puck may have tickled the twine, but the officials never looked at it.

Luckily enough, it did not matter all that much when sophomore forward Jagger Joshua scored seven seconds later at 15:48, one second after the power play expired at 15:47.

While not technically a power-play goal, the effort by the Michigan State power-play unit all but set Joshua up for the goal. All he had to do was put it in the net.

So, what changed? What is with this sudden outburst of one and a half-ish power-play goals?

Well for starters, Arizona State does not have the best penalty kill. Coming into Monday night, the Sun Devils penalty kill was 41-55 (.745) on the season. On the other hand, though, the MSU power play was 4-of-51 (.078) going into Monday night which is almost equally as bad.

Something had to give and this time it was the MSU power play that finally found some success.

Cole said after Monday’s game that they did indeed work on the power play in practice but made mostly positional changes rather than personnel changes.

“We put (Josh) Nodler in front of the net, kind of a little bit of a twist on that, and put Denny (Dennis Cesana) on the backside and let Nash (Nienhuis) run the top,” Cole said. “... It looked really sharp in practice and then it carried over. I liked their entries.”

Just by watching the Spartans’ power play Sunday and Monday, you could tell that something was different. There was a rarely found energy and enthusiasm - an actual sense of urgency to score.

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And that translated into good things, even on some of the power plays they did not score on this weekend. The Spartans did a much better job of holding the offensive zone and cycling the puck around to different players, while also being patient and not forcing passes or shots.

It was methodical and resulted in an increase in both the quantity and quality of shots on the net.

“You do your work without the puck on power plays. You zip it and move, zip it and move and then get in position for it,” Cole said. “I think the guys did a really nice job with that, found some shot openings and some good chances there.”

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Now with just seven games left in the regular season, being able to get the power play going and not just rely on 5-on-5, could give MSU a huge boost when it comes to scoring goals.

“Special teams are such a big part of hockey and even just our team. We struggle scoring goals sometimes, so obviously our power play needs to be at all cylinders,” Joshua said. “Definitely feels good and it is a little confidence going into the next series.”

That next series begins Friday with the Spartans traveling to take on No. 4 Minnesota. Scoring on the power play will be tough against the Golden Gophers who are 12th for the best penalty kill in the nation (.857) and best in the Big Ten.

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