Neil's Notebook: Senior Line Produces in 3-0 Win
Neil Koepke looks back at Friday's win over Penn State.
Jan. 18, 2014
By Neil Koepke
MSUSpartans.com staff writer
EAST LANSING - The heroes were plentiful on Friday night at Munn Arena. Goaltender Jake Hildebrand and the senior line of center Lee Reimer, right wing Greg Wolfe and left wing Dean Chelios ignited Michigan State to its first Big Ten Conference victory.
Hildebrand, a sophomore from Butler, Pa., became the first goalie to earn a shutout in Big Ten play with an outstanding 48-save performance as the Spartans (7-10-3, 1-2-2-2 Big Ten) built a 2-0 lead in the first period and held on for a 3-0 victory over Penn State in front of 6,397 fans.
Wolfe, Reimer and Dean Chelios each had a goal and two assists and combined for 14 shots on goal as MSU defeated the Nittany Lions (4-13-1, 0-5-0), who are only in their second season as Division I program, in the first game of a Big Ten series.
Dean Chelios scored the first goal at 14:38 of the first period after Reimer's hard shot went in and out of the catching glove of PSU goalie Matthew Skoff. Chelios gobbled up the rebound and, from close in, went to his backhand to slide the puck through the crease and off the left post into the net.
It was Chelios' first goal in 18 games this season and first in almost two years. Chelios sat out all of last season with a shoulder injury which required surgery. His last goal was at Notre Dame on Feb. 25, 2012, the last game of the regular season in 2011-12.
"I really didn't think about it too much. I'm more of a passer and I wasn't too concerned,'' Chelios said. "But I heard other people talking about it and it kind of bothered me, so it's nice to get them to shut up.''
Just 2 minutes and 58 seconds after MSU's first goal, the Chelios-Reimer-Wolfe line struck again as Chelios' centering pass from the right circle led to another goal. His pass deflected off of Reimer's stick right to Wolfe in front. Wolfe quickly moved to his left and beat Skoff with a backhander for his team-leading eighth goal of the season.
"We had chemistry before I got hurt and now that we're back together, we're getting lots of chances,'' Chelios said of his linemates, who played together for part of the 2011-12 season. "We've had some good chances the last few games but for whatever reason, they haven't gone in around the net.
"Usually when that happens, when you get one, it's an avalanche, and coach (Kelly) Miller has been good telling me that was what was going to happen.''
Before the line could convert again, the Spartans had to survive Penn State's onslaught in the second period in which they fired 19 shots on Hildebrand. MSU had only six shots on goal that period.
"They were backchecking pretty hard and looked like they got some legs under them and were coming hard, making it hard for us to make plays off the rush,'' Chelios said. "I think we adjusted pretty well and made some smart plays.''
Penn State just needed one goal to change the complexion of the game in the third period, but Hildebrand continued to sparkle with save after save.
With 4:55 left, MSU put the game out of reach, as it was Reimer's turn to find the back of the net.
Reimer got the puck at center ice along the right boards and raced into the zone on a 2-on-2 rush with Wolfe on the left. He drove to the net from the right circle, cut to the middle to get space on a defenseman and fired the puck past Skoff, low to the stick side, to give his team a 3-0 lead.
The goal was Reimer's third of the season. Reimer and Wolfe each had six shots on goal while Chelios had two.
"It was nice to see that senior line score some goals. They've been playing hard and generating some good scoring chances, but the puck just hasn't gone in,'' MSU coach Tom Anastos said. "I was hoping the puck would go in before they started pressing. "I just told Lee Reimer that it was nice to see him get six shots on goal. I've been hounding him to shoot the puck more. He's sick and tired of hearing me. I know when he sees me coming in practice, he's going `Oh boy, here it goes.'
"He had a good night tonight and that should boost his confidence.''
The Spartans will try for their third series sweep of the season when they face the Nittany Lions at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday. MSU hasn't swept a conference series since Feb. 17-18, 2012, against Alaska in a CCHA series at Munn Arena.
"We want to get in the thick of things early and not be racing to catch people at the end,'' Chelios said. "If we can sweep this weekend, it'll be huge for our confidence.
"I think we've been playing well even though our record has been just OK. We've been playing well and deserve this one tonight. We know as a team we've been backing each other up and the emotion is there. We're at a way better place than we were last year at this time.''
HILDEBRAND BUSY: Goalie Jake Hildebrand, who has two shutouts in his last four games, was on top of his game right from the start on Friday. He made 11 saves in the first period, including a few on odd-man rushes, and stopped 18 in the second, including a breakaway by PSU right wing Jonathan Milley.
In the third period, Hildebrand stopped 19 shots for a career high of 48, one more save than he made in a 3-2 loss to Penn State last season - on Jan. 25 at Munn Arena.
"They shoot from all over. We knew that was what they do,'' said Hildebrand, who's from Butler, Pa. "They're a hard-working team. I'm sure their coach got them going before the second period and they came out strong and we had to weather the storm.'' Asked if it felt like a 48-save night, Hildebrand said, "At certain points it did and other points it didn't.''
Many of the Nittany Lions' shots came from the perimeter but they also had enough quality chances to make Hildebrand work hard for his second shutout of the season and fourth of his career.
After shutting out Michigan, 3-0, in the third-place game of the Great Lakes Invitational, Dec. 28, Hildebrand had just a so-so game last Friday in a 5-3 loss at Ohio State. But coach Tom Anastos came right back Hildebrand in the series finale, and he responded with an outstanding game in a 1-1 tie and Big Ten shootout win.
"After coach came back with me after giving up five goals, I felt like he had a lot of confidence in me and that's huge knowing that,'' Hildebrand said. "That made me feel good.''
Hildebrand downplayed being the first goaltender to post a shutout in the first season of the Big Ten hockey.
But he did admit that winning against Penn State goalie Matthew Skoff, a former U.S. Hockey League teammate who's also from the Pittsburgh area, was special.
"It feels pretty good,'' said Hildebrand, who planned on texting his friend and Big Ten rival later Friday night.
Last season, Skoff and PSU beat Hildebrand and MSU, 3-2, rallying from a 2-1 deficit entering the third period. Skoff made 31 saves and Hildebrand stopped 47 shots in their first meeting.
Hildebrand, who has started MSU's last 13 games, has a 2.21 goals-against, a .929 saves percentage and a 6-8-3 record. His goals-against average ranks 20th in the nation.
"There were parts of our game that I really liked and Hildy was one of them,'' Anastos said. "He was tracking the puck well. This is a team that shoots from everywhere and goalies have to be alert.
"We played well in parts of our game but in other parts we really relied on our goaltender.
"We need to, we know that. He really stood tall. I would like to need to less.''
MOVIN' ON UP: With the victory, Michigan State (1-2-2-2) climbed into third place in the Big Ten with seven points, one more than fourth-place Michigan (2-2-0 Big Ten), which is idle this weekend and has played one fewer game than the Spartans.
MSU also passed Ohio State (1-3-1-0, 4 points), which lost to Minnesota, 1-0, on Friday in an outdoor game in Minneapolis.
SOLID PENALTY KILLING: The Spartans took three penalties on Friday - one in each period. And MSU's penalty killers were strong each time. The Nittany Lions managed three shots on goal on their power play in the second period but none on the other two.
Meanwhile, the Spartans didn't have any power plays because Penn State never visited the penalty box. It's the first time this season that MSU didn't have a power play. The previous low was one power play against Minnesota on Dec. 6 - a 2-2 tie and eventual shootout win for the Spartans. They did not convert on the power play.
INJURY UPDATE: Spartan sophomore defenseman John Draeger missed his third straight game due to a lower body injury, and his return is uncertain.
"He's not making progress and we're trying to identify why he's not,'' MSU coach Tom Anastos said. "We left him home last weekend with no skating, just rest. He skated Monday and Tuesday and didn't feel better or worse. He skated on Wednesday and Thursday and he felt worse.
"He's frustrated and we're frustrated. We have to continue to be patient until he gets healthy. It's a significant loss because he plays a lot of minutes, he's a right-handed shot and he's got a year of experience.''
Draeger missed MSU's first eight games while recovering from a lower body injury suffered last summer and one that required surgery. He returned to the lineup on Nov. 22 and played in nine games before suffering another lower body injury during the Great Lakes Invitational late last month.
Meanwhile, sophomore forward Ryan Keller sat out Friday's game with a concussion suffered this week in practice.
Sophomore forward David Bondra is out for the season after having surgery on his left shoulder last month.