Jan. 7, 2012
By Neil Koepke, MSUSpartans.com staff writer
Early in the second period, Michigan State had an excellent opportunity to take control of the game.
The Spartans had another glorious chance to pull ahead of Miami, MSU's most physical imposing opponent of the season, early and midway through the third period.
But four key Spartan power plays, including a 5-on-3 advantage for 1 minute and 20 seconds, failed to result in a goal, and that opened the door to a frustrating result on Friday night at jammed-packed Munn Arena.
The RedHawks' stellar 5-for-5 penalty killing over the first 60 minutes set up Miami's 2-1 overtime victory over MSU in front of a sellout crowd of 6,486 in the first game of a Central Collegiate Hockey Association series.
"When you play in a game like that and your power play has all those chances and you don't come up with a goal, usually it bites you in the end,'' MSU coach Tom Anastos said.
"It's a tough way to lose. I thought our guys played really hard.''
Miami (10-9-1 overall, 6-7-1 CCHA), which has had an up and down first half of its season, won it on freshman right wing Jimmy Mullin's goal from the lower edge of the left circle at 1:24 of overtime, handing the Spartans (11-8-2, 6-6-1-1) their second straight OT defeat.
Spartan goalie Drew Palmisano, making his fourth straight start, made three clutch saves in overtime before Mullin got loose to score on a quick wrist shot. Overall, Palmisano had another strong outing, making 25 saves, including stopping six shots off the stick of RedHawks standout junior left wing Reilly Smith, the team's top scorer with 12 goals and 17 points.
"We had a bad read on the faceoff, it created an outnumbered situation and they took advantage of it,'' Anastos said of the winning goal. "That was a really tough, physical game, which is what we expected.
"Miami is a good team and played well as a team. They compete at a high level and probably harder than any team that we've played this season.''
MSU took the first two penalties of the game in the opening period and skated them off, allowing only one shot - on the second power play.
The Spartans had the next five power plays - one in the opening period, two in the second and two in the third. They had 11 shots on goal on their five power plays, but failed to get the puck past Miami goalie Connor Knapp, a 6-foot-6, 225-pound senior from York, N.Y.
Early in the first period, with the scored tied 1-1, MSU found itself with a two-man advantage for 1:20, but couldn't get the puck through a mass of players in front to set up rebounds and possible second and third chances. Miami blocked 15 shots for the game and several came while killing penalties.
"We had traffic in front and all their bodies in front. They just collapsed and made it tough to get pucks through, and they have the big body in the net,'' Anastos said. "We'll have to come up with ways to create better looks. It's hard to believe after watching them that their penalty killing (efficiency) was 9th in the CCHA.''
MSU had scored at least one power-play goal in four consecutive games (5-for-13) before going 0-for-2 against Michigan in a 3-2 overtime loss last weekend in the Great Lakes Invitational in Detroit.
The Spartans will try to gain a split and get back over the .500 mark in league play when they meet the RedHawks in the second game of the series at 7 p.m. on Saturday at Munn Arena.
Miami's Byron Paulazzo and Greg Wolfe of MSU scored goals 12 seconds apart - at 17:48 and 18:00--of the first period. Miami goalie Knapp stopped 33 shots, including 14 in the second period but none in overtime.
"That was a tough one to swallow,'' MSU junior defenseman and captain Torey Krug said. "I thought the guys competed hard the whole game. The crowd was great once again. It's becoming a more and more fun place to play. Unfortunately, we didn't get the result we wanted.
"We have to make sure we come back hard (on Saturday). We have to let it sting a bit. That's two overtime losses in a row. We have to learn from it and then forget it and come back harder.''
Wolfe, who's goal was his seventh of the season, said his team "moved the puck around well'' on the power play but that it has to do a better job of screening the goaltender.
"The main thing is getting in front of the goalie and not letting him see the puck in traffic,'' Wolfe said. "We had some chances but he's a big goalie and he covers the bottom of the net well. The way to beat him is to go high and get (the puck) under the bar. They went hard on the penalty kill. But the way they kill penalties opens options for us.
"We have to keep moving the puck quickly and find the open man. It's getting the puck to the net and having someone in front at all times.''
Kevin Walrod had five shots on goal and had a great scoring chance early in the first period when he broke into the slot, but the MSU junior left winger's point-blank shot went over the top of the net and out of danger.
"They work hard and they're throwing their bodies around every chance they get,'' Wolfe said. "Miami has some skilled forwards who like to handle the puck and take it to the net. They work hard and we'll have to match that on Saturday.''
Said Krug, "We have to go to the net harder. Defensively, I thought we played well, and Palmisano was very good again. We didn't give up many Grade A chances. We have to get to the paint more, crash the net more and cause some chaos.''
The one-goal output ties MSU's lowest of the season. The Spartans scored only once in a 2-1 loss at Northern Michigan on Nov. 19.
REDHAWKS VIEW: Miami was playing its first game since Dec. 10, when it lost 3-2 in overtime against Ohio State in Oxford, Ohio.
"Our guys did a pretty good job. Michigan State is a tough team to play against. They're playing well and don't give you much. When they do, their goaltender comes up big,'' RedHawks coach Enrico Blasi said.
"Both teams played hard and anything can happen in overtime. When one of your best players (Smith) is getting good chances and nothing is happening, you wonder what's going on.''
Smith was robbed by Palmisano midway through the second period. He was wide open in the slot, got the puck and let go with a quick wrister, but the Spartan goaltender snagged the puck out of midair. He made a game-saving stop on Smith just six seconds into overtime, when the RedHawk standout forward got past an MSU defenseman and broke in alone coming down the left wing.
Palmisano made alert saves on Paulazzo at the right goal post and again on Miami defenseman Will Weber from the right point before Mullin came free off a faceoff to score the winner and ruin the Spartans' night.
"Our penalty kill did a real good job. We blocked some shots and killing a 5-on-3 power play always gives you good momentum,'' Blasi said. "Knapp played in control, made some big saves and kept us in the game. He did a good job of rebound control. We're not giving teams many second chances.''
MORE INJURIES: The Spartans played most of the third period without junior defenseman Matt Grassi, who reportedly took an elbow in the face about 10 feet in front of the MSU net. Grassi left the game and didn't return. Anastos said after the contest that he did not know the extent of Grassi's injury.
Senior right wing Trevor Nill, who injured his arm against Michigan last week in the Great Lakes Invitational, wasn't expected to take a regular shift on Friday, but he dressed and played.
"We talked about him being on the bench and providing some emotional and vocal support,'' Anastos said. "He was all for that. When he came off the ice after warm-ups, he thought he could go. We played him to see how it would go and he played fine.''
Freshman forward Justin Hoomaian is still not ready to play despite getting the OK for full contact after recovering from a broken kneecap suffered early in the season.