Saturday, January 29, 2022

Preview: Michigan State hockey returns to action in two-game series with Penn State

December 3, 2021
<p>The Spartans fight to get a goal in the third period, with Penn State&#x27;s then-goaltender Peyton Jones guarding it. MSU fell to Penn State, 2-1, on Jan. 25, 2020.</p>

The Spartans fight to get a goal in the third period, with Penn State's then-goaltender Peyton Jones guarding it. MSU fell to Penn State, 2-1, on Jan. 25, 2020.

Photo by Lauren DeMay | The State News

Michigan State hockey is back on the ice this weekend after a week of rest during Thanksgiving break. The Spartans head east to face off against the Penn State Nittany Lions. 

“We get a little break here, kinda heal up and give us the opportunity to take a couple of days on each end,”MSU Head Coach Danton Cole said.

The Spartans went into the break riding a four-game winning streak, sweeping Ferris State and Wisconsin in back-to-back weekends. 

Senior goalkeeper Drew DeRidder is a large part of that winning streak. The senior goaltender’s .943 save percentage is second in the nation and fifth in the Big Ten; in the last four games, opposing teams have managed to net an average of 1.75 goals per game against DeRidder.

DeRidder is going to have his work cut out for him this weekend. The Nittany Lions average 36.62 shots on goal per game, which is first in the Big Ten and one of the highest in the nation. Michigan State’s 26.93 average shots on goal is last in the Big Ten. 

“They put a lot of pucks on net,“ Cole said. “They put pressure on you, they transition from defense to offense extremely quickly. When they get up to the line, they’re thinking about getting that puck on net.”

DeRidder’s excellence between the pipes is nothing new — what’s new is the Spartans improved offensive output. In the winning streak, MSU has averaged 3.5 goals per game, a goal higher than the season’s 2.5 average. The offense will have to stay strong to compete with a team like Penn State. Fifth-year forward Mitchell Lewandowski’s return to the lineup has given a major boost to the forward room. The senior leads the team in points (five goals and eight assists) and brings balance back to the lineup. 

The Nittany Lions have an impressive collection of talented forwards. Junior forward Kevin Wall leads the team on offense, averaging over a point per game with 10 goals and six assists in 15 games. Senior forward Ben Copeland is on his heels, with 14 points (four goals and 10 assists) in 13 games. 

PSU’s defensemen can also activate from the blue line effectively. Sophomore defenseman Jimmy Dowd Jr. is a puck-moving defender that can create scoring opportunities with efficient passes and puck-cycling — his eight assists are good for second on the roster. Senior defenseman Clayton Phillips leads the blue-liners in goals scored, notching four through 13 games.

While Penn State has an edge on Michigan State offensively, MSU’s defense and special teams are statistically better than PSU’s. The Spartans penalty kill (.811 effectiveness rate) and power play (.250 success rate) are both third in the Big Ten. The Nittany Lions power play is right behind MSU (.241), but the penalty kill is the second worst in the Big Ten (.774). Defensively, Michigan State allows 2.43 average goals per game, while Penn State gives up 2.85. 

After a hot 6-1 start to the season, Penn State has limped through conference play with a 1-5 record, swept by both Ohio State and Michigan. However, PSU is still an extremely dangerous team — they suffered just one non-conference loss and have wins over No.7 North Dakota and No. 11 Minnesota. 

It is a must-win series for Penn State if they want to turn around the season — they are currently dead last in the Big Ten standings. Michigan State will be facing a highly talented team backed into a corner in one of the toughest road environments in the Big Ten. If they can pull off a victory (or two), the squad might be a legitimate threat in the conference this season. 

The series opening puck drop is set for 7 p.m. Friday night. Both games in the series will be streamed online via BTN+. 

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