It had been 57 days since junior forward Josh Nolder last put a puck in the net. It had also been 98 days since Nodler last picked up an assist.
For a centerman who was a breakout candidate and got off to a solid start to the season, the monkey wasn’t just on his back. It was attached like a vice on the back of his sweater.
Nodler’s two-point night eradicated his horrendous offensive slump, but it still wasn't nearly enough as Michigan State fell 5-3 to Penn State, extending its miserable losing streak to an astonishing 13 games.
On its second power play of the opening period, Michigan State moved the puck well and threatened Notre Dame sophomore goaltender Liam Souliere. Junior forward Erik Middendorf was denied on his initial attempt on the doorstep, corralled his own miss and slid the puck across the crease to Nodler for the wide-open one-timer.
The goal was Nodler’s first since Dec. 30, 2021, against Michigan Tech and just his second point since Nov. 19, 2021. From then into the second intermission, Michigan State played with a different swagger that was rarely found over the past two months. The difference for MSU was the consistency.
Sophomore goaltender Pierce Charleson got the start for the Spartans and made numerous key saves, particulary a pad save robbery on freshman forward Danny Dzhaniyev in the second period.
The MSU skaters answered Charleson's prowness with a rally of their own in the second period.
Nodler picked up his second point of the night early in the middle period, cleanly winning a draw in the offensive zone. The puck found the stick of freshman defenseman David Gucciardi who wristed a puck on net from the blue line.
Simultaneously, junior forward Nico Müller skid past Souliere, providing the perfect screen. Gucciardi's shot found the upper right corner and MSU took a 2-1 lead.
Then late in the period, junior forwards Jagger Joshua and Tyler Gratton were sent off for unsportsmanlike conduct. After a long shift in the defensive zone, Michigan State finally won the puck and Middendorf bolted up ice behind the defense. His linemate, freshman forward Jesse Tucker, threw a strong stretch and Middendorf was in alone. His backhander with 6.4 seconds remaining in the period give Michigan State its first two-goal lead since Feb. 4 at Minnesota.
Nothing ever comes easily with this team, and just as MSU took its two-goal lead into the third, they quickly found themselves playing on their heels for the final 20 minutes.
The entire period was controlled by the visitors and that's what seperated the two teams. Continuing four-on-four play from the end of the second, senior defenseman Adam Pilewicz unleashed a screamer from just outside the circle to put PSU in businesss 50 seconds in. Then a nasty turnover from Tucker in the MSU zone on another four-on-four stretch set up senior defenseman Paul DeNaples with all the time in the world to pick his corner.
In a span of just two minutes and 15 seconds, Michigan State's two-goal lead dwindled to a deadlock. The even score never woke MSU up and Penn State continued to systematically dismantle the Spartans.
Joshua was whistled for his third penalty of the night late in the third period and Penn State got the game-winner from junior forward Connor MacEachern.
PSU added an empty net goal from senior forward Ben Copeland with under a minute to play to put the icing on the cake.
Charleson made 36 saves on the night. An abundance of sloppy turnovers through all three periods kept him under the gun all night.
Michigan State will get another crack at Penn State Saturday night at 6 p.m. Another loss would extend the winless streak to 14, tying a program record.
With the loss, Michigan State is locked into the 7th seed of the Big Ten Tournament, regardless of Saturday’s outcome.
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