In the month of December, Michigan State hockey gave up five power play goals.
During the Great Lakes Invitational last week, the Spartans allowed Michigan Tech to score on two out of three power play opportunities. The previous night, they gave up two power play goals on five opportunities to Ferris State. MSU dropped both games, earning itself fourth place in the tournament.
Before a 16-day break ahead of the GLI, the Spartans were in Ann Arbor where they gave up one power play goal on five chances against Michigan, picking up a 2-1 loss.
As the teams met for the third time this season, the Buckeyes converted on one of two power play opportunities in their 3-1 victory over the Spartans Friday night, meaning MSU has given up six power play goals in the last four games.
While the Spartans continue to struggle on the penalty kill with a .810 percentage, Ohio State holds a .907 average, the best in the nation. Sophomore forward Jesse Tucker said MSU works on its penalty kill abilities during practice, “trying” to improve each week.
“First of all, we don't want to take penalties – that's the best penalty kill you can have,” Tucker said. “So just kind of limiting our penalties to begin with, and then I think just bearing down on clears and things like that will help our PK a lot. … I think we just got to continue to play our way and I think things will eventually go back to the way they were the first half (of the season).”
Head Coach Adam Nightingale said there was “a little bit” of confusion between players on the 4-on-3 power play which handed OSU its second goal of the night.
Senior forward Jagger Joshua, graduate defenseman Michael Underwood and fifth-year defenseman Cole Krygier were out in front of the net for that goal. The three skaters and graduate goaltender Dylan St. Cyr were unable to block OSU freshman forward Stephen Halliday’s shot, which bounded off St. Cyr’s stick into the back of the net.
“You want to try to hold that middle ice, and once skilled players get to middle ice, it’s dangerous and tough for our goalie,” Nightingale said.
Perhaps the saving grace of Michigan State’s mediocre performance in the first game of the series against Ohio State was a late goal by Tucker. It was his sixth goal of the season and second in two games to prevent sophomore goaltender Jakub Dobeš from earning his first shutout victory of the season.
“We get the puck deep, get it behind their defenseman, and then, we just go to work on the forecheck and we get a nice bounce off of some pressure, and then I just end up with the puck in front of the net and put it in," Tucker said.
With the loss, MSU moves to 12-10-1 overall and 6-6-1 in Big conference play.
“I think our team's performance obviously wasn't up to what we want it to be,” Tucker said. “We got to play a full 60 minutes, but getting that goal at the end just kind of gave us a little bit of life and hopefully try to get that next one, but obviously it didn't come. I think me and my linemates just kind of got back to it in the third period, the way we play, and it worked out for us.”
Digging the Spartans out of the hole that is a four-game losing streak starts with cleaning up their penalty kill efforts.
MSU has a chance to improve its PK percentage – among other woes – in a rematch with the Buckeyes on Saturday at 4 p.m., which will be the final meeting of the regular season between the teams. The game will be televised on Big Ten Network.
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