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Neil's Notebook: Spartans Aim for Series Split After Loss on Friday

Jan. 7, 2017

By Neil Koepke
MSUSpartans.com staff writer

MADISON, Wis. – Mason Appleton got right to the point about Michigan State’s 5-1 loss to Wisconsin on Friday night.

“I think that’s the worst game we’ve played as team (this season),’’ the sophomore right wing said. “We had zero energy, we won zero battles and didn’t do the things we wanted to do.’’ The Spartans (4-12-1, 0-3 Big Ten) played well for maybe the first minute of the game. Then everything went downhill.

They gave up two goals before the game was seven minutes old and were outshot 14-3 in the first period, despite having two power plays. But MSU was still in the game scoreboard-wise, trailing only 2-1.

Unfortunately for the visitors, the second period wasn’t much better. Two early penalties led to a 5-on-3 power-play goal by the Badgers, and then when the Spartans got a power play, they gave up a shorthanded goal and trailed 4-1.

When did this one get away from the Spartans, who have now lost six games in a row?

“When it started,’’ MSU coach Tom Anastos said. “I don’t think we came with any jump right from the beginning. They got those early goals and built their momentum. We got a goal back but I didn’t like our effort tonight.’’

Villiam Haag scored MSU’s only goal at 7:21 of the first period with a quick shot from slot to the top left corner after taking a pass from center Patrick Khodorenko.

“Score-wise, you’re still in the game (down 2-1), but they were winning all the puck battles. We turned the puck over badly. It was just a bad performance,’’ Anastos said.

 

 

Michigan State showed a little more zip in the third period and had more shots on goal – 15 – than it had in the first two periods combined – 11. Seven of the 15 shots came on an early power play. In the end, the Spartans were outshot, 36-26, gave up one power-play goal in four opportunities and failed to convert on four power-play chances.

“I don’t want to take credit away from their team. Their team played a good game, but our team played poorly,’’ Anastos said.

“(Special teams) have been a problem all season. We have not won special teams. You give up shorthanded goal, you give up a power-play goal and you don’t get one yourself. Those are all opportunities to shift the momentum and we didn’t take advantage of any of them. They all went the other way. But Wisconsin earned that. We didn’t.’’

Anastos and his players felt they had a good week of practice and that they were ready for a strong start against a Wisconsin team which hadn’t played in 26 days, since Dec. 10.

“Coach said we had a good week of practice and I thought the same. We didn’t expect this,’’ said Appleton, the 6-foot-2, 200-pounder from Green Bay who leads MSU in scoring with eight goals and eight assists for 16 points and who had five shots on goal on Friday.

“We had chances to score. I think I hit two posts and (Joe) Cox hit one. But you’re not going to win when you play the way we did.

“We’re going to have play a different game tomorrow.’’

The Spartans hope to rebound Saturday and salvage a series split when the face the Badgers (9-7-1, 2-1) at 8 p.m. at the Kohn Center. The initial focus will be a strong start.

“That was the emphasis come out here. That’s an emphasis for every team. If you want to turn the puck over in the neutral zone, you’re going to make the game easy for the opposition,’’ Anastos said. “It’s that simple. I don’t care what level of hockey it is. That’s what we did.’’

What was surprising about Michigan State’s play on Friday is that the Spartans have played very well on the road in its last three games – a 4-3 win at Ferris State and a 4-3 win and a 2-2 tie at North Dakota. But there was no sign on Friday of the focus, energy and resiliency displayed in November.

“I don’t think we were in the game at any point from the drop of the puck,’’ senior right wing and captain Joe Cox said. “I don’t think our hustle or our mentality was hard enough. We were sloppy, we were soft.

“It wasn’t just in our neutral zone, it was our defensive zone and we weren’t hard enough on our forecheck.

“It comes down to a matter of caring, wanting to work hard, competing and going after pucks hard. We didn’t do that tonight. If we can bring energy like I know we can, I think we can beat these guys.’’

BRIGHT SPOTS? There weren’t many positive aspects of the Spartans’ game on Friday, but if you had to pick a few, one would be the play by the fourth line of Connor Wood at center with Brennan Sanford on left wing and Dylan Pavelek on the right side. They showed lots of energy buzzing around the offensive zone, bottling up the Badgers with quick and heavy forechecking.

In addition, goalie Ed Minney didn’t have a good first period and probably would like another shot at stopping Cameron Hughes’ goal on a wrist shot from the right circle that caught the far corner and gave Wisconsin a 2-0 lead. But Minney was solid the rest of the way, stopping a breakaway and several point-blank shots among his 31 saves.

“He started slow but he played pretty well the rest of the game. He made a lot of stops,’’ Anastos said. We just didn’t help him. He was left on an island back there.’’

There’s one stat that MSU held a healthy edge on Friday. The Spartans were excellent in the faceoff circle, winning 38 and losing 17. Freshman center Sam Saliba went 13-2 on faceoffs.

IN THE BIG TEN: No. 2 Penn State saw its 13-game winning streak come to an end on Friday as the Nittany Lions (13-2-1, 2-1) got shut out at No. 11 Ohio State, 3-0. The Buckeyes (10-3-4, 2-1) scored late in the first period, late in the second and late in the final period into an empty net.

Senior goalie Christian Fry made 46 saves, 18 in the first period, 13 in the second and 17 in the final 20 minutes to earn the shutout. The teams close out their series on Saturday.

Michigan and Minnesota had the weekend off. Those two teams collide next Friday and Saturday in Minneapolis.

ANOTHER TOUGH START: Michigan State wasn’t the only team to have a poor start and a rough night on Friday. In fact, Nebraska-Omaha’s first period was far worse.

The Mavericks, hosting No. 7 North Dakota, gave up five answered goals in the first period, two more in the second and were routed by the Fighting Hawks, 9-1. UND’s top forward – sophomore Brock Boeser, who just returned to the lineup after recovering from a lingering hand injury – scored two goals,

Freshman center Tyson Jost had a goal and an assist after flying from Montreal to Omaha Friday morning after competing for Canada in the World Junior Championships, won by the U.S. with a 5-4 victory in the shootout over Canada on Thursday night.

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