Neil's Notebook: In a Nine-Goal Weekend, Defense Shines
Spartan Penalty Kill Critical in Both Spartan Victories
Feb. 5, 2012
By Neil Koepke, MSUSpartans.com staff writer
Michigan State did a lot of good things on Saturday night in completing a CCHA series sweep with a nail-biting 3-2 victory over Ohio State at Value City Arena.
Once again, the Spartans competed hard, played with poise, made good plays and fought through some adversity to earn its first series sweep since Dec. 2-3 against Bowling Green.
The most positive aspect of MSU's game?
That's easy. Penalty killing. Make that excellent penalty killing.
The Spartans made it tough on themselves by too often checking in with the attendant in the visitors' penalty box. But no big deal.
MSU is one of the best penalty-killing teams in the country and it had to be great on Saturday in skating off eight OSU power plays (one lasted only 10 seconds), including one in the last four minutes of the third period.
"Our penalty killing was big. Last week, we got beat a couple times (while killing penalties) at Ferris State. Tonight, we had a lot of guys block shots,'' said Spartans junior defenseman Torey Krug, who had a power-play goal, an assist, blocked three shots and was named the No. 1 star for the second consecutive game.
"Our goal is to be the top penalty killing team in the nation. We took another step toward that this weekend.''
Indeed they did.
The Spartans (15-11-4 overall, 10-9-3-3 CCHA) went 6-for-6 on the penalty kill in Friday's 6-3 victory in the series opener. After a 14-for-14 weekend, MSU ranks No. 2 nationally (89.1 percent, 106-for-119) in penalty killing, only behind Robert Morris (93.4 percent).
Forwards Anthony Hayes, Chris Forfar, Trevor Nill and Brett Perlini and defensemen Brock Shelgren, Matt Crandell, Dean Chelios and Krug were sharp, quick and tough to play against while defending in the Spartan zone.
And, of course, the goaltender is most often the main factor in elite penalty killing, and sophomore Will Yanakeff was sharp and made some clutch saves as OSU moved the puck around well and sustained good pressure at times. Yanakeff made 33 saves, including 10 while the Buckeyes held a man advantage.
Meanwhile, the Spartans converted on two of six power-play chances and built a 3-0 lead midway through the second period. Matt Berry, set up by a perfect feed from Krug, scored on a power play at 9:14 of the first period. Defenseman Jake Chelios made it 2-0 at 1:57 of the second period and Krug converted on power play with a shot from the point in the middle at 13:25.
Perlini assisted on all three goals and Greg Wolfe had a pair of assists.
OSU (14-10-5, 10-9-5-1), winless in 10 games (0-6-4), made a game of it by scoring two goals in 3 minutes and 26 seconds in the last six minutes of the second period. Tanner Fritz scored both goals on rebounds - at 14:23 and 17:49.
In the third period, MSU took three penalties and OSU had five shots on goal during those six minutes of power-play time.
To earn the win and sweep, the Spartans had to survive the last few minutes when the Buckeyes put heavy pressure in the MSU zone, and played the last 1:20 with a sixth attacker. But MSU stayed poised, battled hard behind the net and in the corners and defended well in front.
"Give credit to Ohio State. They battled back hard,'' Nill said. "But give credit to our defensive corps. They stepped up in the third period, and Will made some key saves.
"I liked how our team kept its composure after give up those two goals.''
Yanakeff, who also started Friday's game, said he hardly saw the puck in the final minute.
"It was pretty hectic. I didn't see the puck much. Guys were everywhere,'' he said. "We played well at the end. We blocked shots, were good defensively and we had good poise in our zone. Our penalty killing was great.
"Ohio State likes to shoot from everywhere. A lot of their shots were from the perimeter, but they had a couple close-in chances. Our defense was good in front. They batted away most of the passes and rebounds.''
Yanakeff said "it felt good" to start both games and play at a high level but he was more excited about the sweep and rise in the standings.
"More importantly, we're doing well as a team. Getting the six points was huge,'' he said. "We took a big step in the standings and we have to make a big push here at the end of the season.''
Coach Tom Anastos said it was important for his team to play at a much higher level than it did on Friday when MSU overcame a shaky start and 3-1 deficit in the first period and roared back to claim a 6-3 victory.
"Other than the penalties, I thought our overall performance was significantly better than Friday night,'' he said. "After watching that game back, I didn't think we played particularly well.
"We weren't all that good and they missed a lot of opportunities. Tonight, was a tougher game and we played much better. We were a much more difficult team to play against.''
Penalties started to become a concern in the third period when MSU took three straight and giving the Buckeyes a good opportunity to tie it.
"It was the same guys going to the well, same guys going on defense to kill the penalties,'' Anastos said. "You have to make sure you're working as least as hard as your opponent or maybe even harder.
"Our guys worked hard and sacrificed themselves by blocking shots. And you can't overlook how important your goaltender is in penalty killing. Will stopped the puck. He made some big saves.''
Hayes had a career-best three assists on Friday and had one shot on goal on Saturday, as his line contributed four shots on goal. And saw lots of work on the penalty kill each night.
"I thought the Hayes line again was a force offensively,'' Coach Tom Anastos said. "They were protecting pucks down low, grinding it out and getting pucks to the net.''
Hayes said the two wins against OSU were his best back-to-back games in his two-and-a-half years at MSU.
"I couldn't have asked for a better weekend. I couldn't have written a better script,'' he said. "It's great to be able to contribute and get two wins like that. I take a lot of pride in our penalty killing and being a mainstay on it. When we kill off a penalty, it gives our team energy.
"Ohio State's power play was phenomenal. They did everything but score. We were hemmed in our zone for like 35 seconds a couple of times. They didn't make it easy on us.
"We've worked all season on our conditioning and when to pressure them and when not to pressure , and that paid off tonight. (OSU) did a great job, but we did our jobs just a little better.''
Krug had a goal and two assists on Friday, had a goal and one assist on Saturday and logged lots of ice time in both games, and a lot of it came in killing penalties.
In Saturday's postgame press conference, Coach Tom Anastos was asked by the Columbus media about Krug's talents and value to the Spartans.
"He comes to play every game, doesn't take a shift off and while he makes mistakes, he works and competes so hard. He's an incredible competitor,'' Anastos said. "He's very dependable. He's 5-foot-9 and he's competing against a lot of bigger guys every night.
"I love watching him play, not only because of his skill, but because he's such a fierce competitor.''
Krug, the No. 1 star in both games against OSU, has eight goals and 16 assists for 24 points in 29 games. Last season, he had 11 goals and 17 assists for 28 points and was selected as the CCHA's top offensive defenseman.
Krug downplayed his dominant play and was more excited about the series sweep and rise in the standings to seventh place, and only three points out of third place.
"I was fortunate this weekend. I got some lucky bounces and my teammates played great. They made good plays and I was able to put the puck in the net,'' Krug said.
"It was a good road win. We wanted to come down here and get six points. We accomplished our mission. We took a big step this weekend.''
MSU is only two points behind third-place U-M (17-9-4, 11-7-4-1 CCHA), which is coming off an impressive sweep (4-1, 3-0) sweep of Miami at Yost Arena. The Wolverines, one of the hottest teams in the nation, are 6-1-1 since January and 10-1-2 in their last 13 games. During that stretch, U-M is 2-0-1 vs. MSU.
The teams play at 7:30 p.m. on Friday at Munn Arena and at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.