For the second game in a row, Michigan State was given one of the best scoring opportunities possible in hockey: a five-minute power play.
With the game knotted up at one goal apiece in the second period, sophomore forward Kyle Haskins took a violent check from behind by Ohio State defenseman James Marooney that garnered an immediate whistle. A short review confirmed a major penalty and game misconduct for Marooney and the Spartans had an elite chance to take back the lead after scoring early in the first period.
Haskins, perhaps coincidentally, committed a similar penalty last Saturday night versus Wisconsin. MSU led 2-1 in the third period, but the Badgers flipped the game around scoring two goals during the five-minute power play to eventually win 3-2. The penalty and capitalization from Wisconsin was Michigan State’s death sentence.
That was not the case for how the five-minute power play played out for Michigan State last night. Instead of capitalizing on the extended time with an extra skater, the Spartans played the puck like a grenade and struggled to string together tape-to-tape passes to control possession of the puck.
Perhaps the frightening part is a similar scenario that happened last week. The Spartans were in the midst of killing a first period penalty when Wisconsin forward Roman Ahcan was sentenced to a five-minute major and game misconduct. MSU was on the power play for three and a half minutes and could not find the back of the net.
“I think we just need to settle things down out there and just stick to what we know and the plays that we know how to play,” freshman forward Tanner Kelly, MSU’s lone goal-scorer of the night said. “I think we got to work as a five man unit out there. You can't have anyone do anything themselves.”
In the grand scheme of things, particularly on this five-game skid, the power play woes are just a snippet of the troubles. Friday’s 4-1 loss to No. 15 Ohio State was just another night of carelessness with the puck and lack of execution of basic fundamentals.
The frustration of the past three weeks is finally starting to show too. Senior goaltender Drew DeRidder, who usually keeps to himself and does not show much emotion whether posting a 40-save shutout or surrendering four goals, had a different tone in his words.
“We are never lacking in effort,” DeRidder said. “It’s just a need to be smarter with the puck. Smarter plays, just a lot of turnovers. A lot of unnecessary turnovers, just shooting ourselves in the foot a lot.”
Take Ohio State’s second goal of the night. OSU freshman defenseman Cole McWard played the puck off the back wall to his center, breakout freshman Georgii Merkulov. Concurrently, freshman forward Cam Thiesing broke toward the net on the back side and snuck past sophomore defenseman Nash Nienhuis. The timing was perfect and Merkulov wristed a pass to Thiesing who finished on the open net with no defender in the vicinity.
Three freshmen made the play, all of which do not have much experience playing with one another. But, Michigan State’s defensive slumber made it look easy.
Ohio State’s third goal was scored on a counter attack after an aggressive forecheck from the Spartan forwards left a big gap between the attackers and defenders. Buckeye sophomore forward Joe Dunlap received the puck at the OSU blue line and had tons of open ice to work with. All he needed was his speed to hustle past senior defenseman Cole Krygier and a backhand flip to graduate forward Eric Cooley to give Ohio State a comfortable two-goal lead in the third period.
Subtle plays like those, careless turnovers, bad line changes, sloppy penalties, poor execution, have been the Achilles’ heel for plenty of Michigan State losses. As fifth year forward Mitchell Lewandowski continues to miss time, more and more has been asked from the other skaters. There have been moments from players like freshman forward Jesse Tucker, but nothing sustainable. As a result, the Spartans have won just two games without Lewandowski in the lineup.
“We had a couple guys that were just average and we need them to be better than that,” MSU Hockey Head Coach Danton Cole said.
DeRidder, who was named this week to the Mike Richter Award Watch List, again played well — allowing three goals while making 35 saves. It was just another night in the office for him, experiencing the usual offensive barrage he and sophomore Pierce Charleson may be accustomed to at this point.
So when DeRidder opened his mouth to voice his displeasure after years of keeping his mouth shut about the play in front of him, it resonated differently than perhaps anything else he has ever said in East Lansing.
“It all just goes back to something’s gotta change,” DeRidder said. “Something’s gotta. We gotta get better. We gotta change. We gotta turn this around.”
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