With fifth-year forward Mitchell Lewandowski back in the lineup and a couple of games at home, it seemed as though Michigan State hockey was destined to snap its losing streak.
But inconsistency and unforced errors ultimately doomed the Spartans, and the losing streak was extended to 12 games.
Lewandowski is an essential piece of Michigan State's roster, especially on offense. Without him in the lineup, MSU is 1-14 this season and he was absent for the entire losing streak heading into the series against Notre Dame.
Upon his return, Lewandowski provided an instant boost. The Spartans struck first against Notre Dame Friday night, cashing in on their first power play of the game. Lewandowski inched forward into the slot, drawing attention from multiple defenders, then slid the puck to sophomore forward Jeremy Davidson at the right faceoff circle. Davidson ripped the puck into a yawning net for his eleventh of the season.
That goal was the last one the Spartans would score Friday night, as the Irish nabbed two straight and won 2-1. However, Lewandowski was active throughout the game, whether it be entering the offensive zone with creative plays, such as when he bounced the puck off the board to slip past an Irish defender or maintaining possession in Notre Dame's defensive zone.
Lewandowski did not earn a point in Saturday night's 4-2 loss, but he was still one of the more active forwards on the roster.
“Having Lewy back just brings that presence on another line, where teams are scared to play against him and play against our top nine,” junior forward Erik Middendorf said. “He's a really big part of our team.”
Errors, inconsistency and a sturdy defense
Even with the offensive boost provided by Lewandowski, the Spartans struggled to consistently break through a stout Irish defense.
“When we were pushing, we were controlled a lot of the game,” Lewandowski said. “We need to do that for a full 60 minutes instead of 10 minutes a period, or even five minutes a period.”
Against such a strong defense, the errors started to pile up for Michigan State. Stretches of solid play were undercut with just a few seconds of errors, and the well-balanced Fighting Irish capitalized. With a quick game like hockey, errors are bound to happen every night. But this weekend, Michigan State just couldn't overcome it.
“Unforced errors kill every team,” senior defenseman Christian Krygier said. “If we had unforced errors for two minutes, what about the 58 minutes that we had to turn the game around?”
This weekend, Michigan State hosts Penn State in the last two games of the regular season. If the Spartans want to end the season on a high note, consistency is the key. Errors are bound to happen, but Michigan State has to learn how to overcome them. MSU won't be at full strength as the return of junior forwards Griffin Loughran and Chris Berger is unlikely, but Lewandowski looked healthy against Notre Dame and will almost certainly be available against the Nittany Lions.
The Big Ten tournament is just weeks away, and everyone makes the dance. It's hard to find positives in a 12-game losing streak, but Michigan State has one final weekend to build some momentum. The series is set to kick off Friday night, and the puck drops at 7 p.m. The game will be televised via Big Ten Network Plus.
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