Sunday, February 25, 2024

As losses pile up, penalties do the same for Michigan State hockey

January 21, 2022
<p>Spartans junior forward Jagger Joshua enters the face off against Minnesota in the Spartans&#x27; match against the Golden Gophers at Munn Ice Arena on Friday, Jan. 7, 2022. </p>

Spartans junior forward Jagger Joshua enters the face off against Minnesota in the Spartans' match against the Golden Gophers at Munn Ice Arena on Friday, Jan. 7, 2022.

Photo by Chloe Trofatter | The State News

It is 2-1 early in the third period.

On a three-game skid, Michigan State is desperate to escape Madison with a win and, in turn, a series split against the Wisconsin Badgers. It is clear the Spartans have the previous night’s 5-2 thrashing on their minds, as the team’s aggression and physicality is evident by the hits dished out on the ice. 

Sophomore forward Kyle Haskins takes things a step too far, crashing into a Badger and making contact to the opponents head. Haskins receives a five minute major and a game misconduct, while Wisconsin heads to an extended power play.  The Badgers take full advantage, netting the game-tying goal and eventually — the game-winner. The 3-2 win completed the sweep for Wisconsin.

Over the two-game series, Michigan State committed 12 penalties. Half of Wisconsin’s goals came on the power play. 

“You can’t kill off 14-16 minutes,” MSU Head Coach Danton Cole said. “That’s a period of a game. It’s not a productive way to try and win a hockey game.”

Throughout the year, penalties have not been a major issue for Michigan State despite the Spartans average 12.5 penalty minutes per game, which is 20th most in the nation and third-most in the Big Ten. An above-average penalty kill unit has also made penalties less noticeable. 

But as the losses pile up, the penalties are doing the same. In MSU’s four-game losing streak, the team committed 21 penalties — giving up five power-play goals. In that same stretch, the Spartans had only 10 attempts on the man advantage, converting on just one of those opportunities. 

“Some are our fault and some aren’t, but it doesn’t matter,” Cole said. “We control what we control and we need to stay out of the box.”

Penalties are just a part of the game, especially for a hyper-physical team like Michigan State. With bruising players like junior defenseman Jagger Joshua and the senior defenseman Krygier brothers on the roster, there are bound to be a few whistles every night.

However, when the Spartans spend half the period with a man in the box, it disrupts the flow of the game even if the opponent doesn’t score. Forwards and defensemen are left catching their breath after racing around the defensive zone, while the opponents get essentially two minutes to cycle the puck. A penalty can tilt the ice immediately, slamming the breaks on any sort of positive momentum.

Michigan State has a tough slate ahead, facing some of the best teams of the Big Ten. With such a difficult road ahead, playing almost a third of the game shorthanded is not a winning formula, especially against team’s with lethal power-play units like Michigan. The penalty kill has stayed strong, but the Spartans cannot afford to play against the ropes. 

This weekend, the Spartans have a chance to bounce back at home against a familiar opponent: Ohio State.

MSU is 1-1 against OSU this season, splitting an earlier series in Columbus. With the postseason approaching rapidly, every series going forward will take on a playoff atmosphere, as conference teams battle for the coveted home-ice advantage in the Big Ten Tournament. With Michigan State slotting in at sixth in the Big Ten standing, every game matters, especially at home.

The puck is set to drop in Munn Ice Arena at 7 p.m. on Friday night. The game will be televised via BTN+.

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