There were a lot of negatives in Michigan State’s two-game sweep on their trip to Minneapolis.
But there were also a few positives that can be built upon with the season soon coming to a close. A lot still needs to be done if the Spartans are to make some-sort-of Cinderella run in the Big Ten Tournament. Regardless, in the land of moral victories, there were still some stepping stones for MSU.
Here are three takeaways following the Friday and Saturday defeats at the hands of the No. 4 Minnesota Golden Gophers:
1. Faceoffs remain one of the only consistent positives of this team
Winning faceoffs is one of the most important aspects of the game of hockey. The ability to start out with the puck is advantageous for so many reasons.
Michigan State has not done many things right this season, but one of the consistent positives that were displayed this past weekend is the Spartans’ continued success in the faceoff circle.
Despite being outscored 9-3, MSU still performed well in the faceoff circle. It may have been by just a hair, 49-for-97 to be exact, but being over 50% certainly is a good thing.
Senior Tommy Apap has taken the most draws for the green and white in 2020-21, winning 56.1% percent of the time. That ranks 42nd in the country and second on the team.
Perhaps the most promising numbers though come from the young guys. Freshman Kristof Papp has been a stud winning 62.9% of his draws, third best in the entire country. Sophomore Josh Nodler has also been great, finding success in 55.8% of his faceoffs.
Senior Mitchell Mattson is the last Spartan sitting above 50%, succeeding with a 52.1% rate. Sophomore Nicolas Müller is the only Spartan who has attempted at least 50 faceoffs and rings in under 50%.
Putting it all together, Michigan State ranks sixth in the country, winning 53.6% of their faceoffs. Minnesota ranks lower than MSU at 15th in the country, but they too are no cakewalk when it comes to winning draws.
With Papp, Nodler and even Müller having multiple years left at Michigan State, the team’s success in the faceoff circle looks to be a strength for many years to come. They will have a true test this upcoming series though as they welcome Notre Dame to town, the fifth-best faceoff school in the nation.
For those who like to just look at the scores of games, you would probably assume the Golden Gophers scored a power-play goal this past weekend, especially with nine goals in two games.
But actually, Minnesota did not score a single power-play goal. The Spartans penalty kill, which is quite average, killing 80% of their opponents' power plays on the season, did a fantastic job of shutting down a top-15 power play in the country.
What is one way to not surrender power-play goals? How about not giving opponents power plays? That's what MSU did this weekend, playing a part in their success. The Gophers had just four total power plays in two games.
That is quite impressive given the outcome of Saturday’s game. It can be common to see teams when they go down big to start taking careless penalties in frustration. Michigan State did not do that though, showing signs of discipline.
One of the biggest struggles for MSU defensively against Minnesota was the amount of odd-man rushes they gave up. The good news with being on the penalty kill, however, is the puck is most likely already in the defensive zone. It is pretty hard to get counterattacked with an odd-man rush.
3. Pierce Charleson great in relief for Drew DeRidder
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After giving up four goals in the first period on 10 shots, MSU starting goaltender Drew DeRidder was benched in favor of freshmen Pierce Charleson. Those stats do not bode well for DeRidder, but the lack of defensive effort from the MSU skaters forced head coach Danton Cole to find some sort of spark from the bench.
The outcome of the game did not change with MSU falling 5-1 and bringing in Charleson definitely had an effect on the remainder of the game.
Charleson, making his third appearance of his career, had his best performance of his young career stopping 20 shots while allowing one goal in just over two periods of play. The one goal he let in was more of a defensive miscue than a goaltending error when Minnesota’s Sammy Walker got the puck completely wide open in front of the net.
Wearing No. 29, Charleson made his debut on Jan. 8 at Michigan and it did not go very well – he allowed six goals while making 29 saves. His second appearance came on Jan. 29 at Wisconsin and he was better: Only allowing one goal and making 15 saves in 20 minutes.
All three of Charleson’s appearances have been in relief of DeRidder.
There is no doubt though that DeRidder is still the guy for the remainder of the year and likely next year too.
He has been fantastic all year long except for a few hiccups. Although, with five regular-season games remaining and the Spartans in the last place in the Big Ten by four points, Charleson’s performance Saturday should not go unnoticed. Do not be surprised if Cole at least considers giving Charleson a start with his role potentially increasing in 2021-22.
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