Thursday, December 2, 2021

Michigan State’s 3-2 loss to Michigan illustrates importance of special teams

November 8, 2021
<p>Michigan State hockey Head Coach Danton Cole talks to his team as the Spartans try to find a way back in the game. The Wolverines defeated the Spartans 3-2 at Munn Ice Arena on Nov. 6, 2021.</p>

Michigan State hockey Head Coach Danton Cole talks to his team as the Spartans try to find a way back in the game. The Wolverines defeated the Spartans 3-2 at Munn Ice Arena on Nov. 6, 2021.

Photo by Devin Anderson-Torrez | The State News

After a 7-2 rout of Michigan State Friday night, Michigan completed its sweep on Saturday evening, escaping Munn Ice Arena with a 3-2 victory

One of the lessons Michigan State can take away from Saturday’s close loss? 

Special teams are key, especially in a top-end conference like the Big Ten. 

The Wolverines were well-disciplined Saturday night, giving the Spartans just two chances on the man advantage. Michigan State failed to cash in on either of the attempts — in fact, they came close to giving up a shorthanded goal to Michigan. MSU was without one of its leading point-scorers in the series in fifth-year forward Mitchell Lewandowski.

The fifth-year senior is tied for first on the team in points scored (tied with junior forward Josh Nodler despite playing in four fewer games) and his playmaking ability was sorely missed on the power play.

The Wolverines managed to take the slight edge on special teams play with a power play goal just over halfway through the first period. The lethal unit became a bit too comfortable in the offensive zone and Michigan sophomore center Matty Beniers ripped the puck to the back of the net. 

MSU’s penalty kill put the clamps on for the remainder of the game, killing off four consecutive power play attempts by Michigan. Michigan managed to get good amounts of possession in Michigan State’s defensive zone, but the Spartans ensured quality scoring chances were limited. 

After each penalty kill, Michigan State seemed to get a kick of confidence, zipping around the ice just a bit faster and hitting just a bit harder.

“When you kill it (power play) off, it’s a little boost for your team,” junior forward Jagger Joshua said. “It gets the boys going. Definitely something that I take pride in is killing penalties.”

The Spartans nearly clawed their way back to a tie game, scoring a goal in the second and a goal in the third to get the game within reach, but Michigan held the lead and escaped with a win. In such a closely contested game, the early power play goal by Michigan and the two failed power play attempts came back to bite Michigan State.

Special teams will be especially important as Michigan State heads into the teeth of the Big Ten schedule. The Spartans currently have a 1-3 record in Big Ten play after splitting a road series with Ohio State and getting swept by Michigan.

However, even after a less than ideal start in conference play, MSU is right in the thick of the standings, resting at fifth place. They sit just above Penn State and Notre Dame (both are 0-2 against conference foes) and just below their next Big Ten opponent, Wisconsin. There is still plenty of hockey to be played and Michigan State is still in play for the Big Ten.

If Michigan State wants to stay competitive in such a fierce conference, the special teams are going to be essential. 

“Big Ten games are like playoff games every single night,” Michigan State hockey Head Coach Danton Cole said.

MSU faces its final non-conference opponent of the regular season this week with a home-and-away series against Ferris State. The two will face off on Thursday at Munn in the series opener, then head to Ewigleben Ice Arena Saturday night to wrap things up. 

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