Neil's Notebook: Turnovers Too Much to Overcome in Loss
Neil Koepke recaps Friday's loss to Wisconsin.
By Neil Koepke
MSUSpartans.com staff writer
EAST LANSING – There’s something about playing Wisconsin this season that brings out the worst in Michigan State.
Or maybe it’s that there’s something about the Spartans that brings out the best in the Badgers.
Whatever the case, and whatever the reasons, Wisconsin continued its dominance over Michigan State with a 6-3 victory on Friday night at Munn Arena.
Two weeks ago, the Badgers were in total control of the Spartans in a pair of 5-1 victories in Madison. Wisconsin has outscored MSU 16-4 this season.
It wasn’t much different in the Badgers’ latest win as they capitalized on numerous Spartan turnovers and sloppy defensive play and built a 3-0 lead 15 minutes into the first period.
No. 18 Wisconsin had only four shots on goal in the second period and scored on two of them.
Trailing 5-1 midway through the third period, the Spartans played a strong last 10 minutes, scoring two goals – by freshmen Patrick Khodorenko and Sam Saliba - in less than three minutes to cut their deficit to two goals.
But MSU’s comeback ended when Badgers freshman center Trent Frederic scored into an empty net with 12.4 seconds left.
“We came into the weekend preparing all week on how important it was not to turn the puck over. We obviously didn’t do a very good job with that,’’ MSU coach Tom Anastos said.
“Turnovers . . . that was the root of the cause of the result of the game. We gave up goals way too easy because we gave them point-blank grade A chances as the result of turnovers.
“It starts with that. Our best players weren’t our best players tonight. It’s hard to win when that that’s the case.’’
The Spartans (5-16-2 overall, 1-7-1-0 Big Ten) will try to earn a split with the Badgers (14-8-1, 7-2-0-0) when they meet in the series finale at 7 p.m. Saturday at Munn Arena.
With the loss, MSU’s unbeaten streak ends at two games. With the win, Wisconsin extends its winning streak to four games and has won six of its last seven games.
Michigan State goalies Ed Minney and John Lethemon, who played the second and third periods, didn’t have particularly good games, but weren’t to blame for the loss. They combined for 12 saves. Minney made seven in the first period and Lethemon stopped two shots in the second period and three in the third.
Wisconsin freshman goalie Jack Berry made 20 saves.
“I made the goaltending change not because I was unhappy with Ed, but to try to create change, and we didn’t help either one of our goalies,’’ Anastos said. “We teed up pucks for them (in the first period) to come down uncontested on scoring chances
“We did the same thing with Lethemon in the second period. We set them up on tees and they got to bomb away.’’
Wisconsin’s first goal came as a result of a MSU pass out of its zone that was bobbled near the blue line and went out of the zone, only to be quickly retrieved by the Badgers and brought back into the Spartan zone along the right boards.
Defenseman Jake Linhart slid the puck into the middle of the ice to Frederic, who moved into the slot and his wrister from 35 feet out beat Minney to the left corner of the net at 5:28 of the opening period.
Three minutes and 17 seconds later, Luke Kunin got between MSU defensemen Rhett Holland and Jerad Rosburg just outside the Spartan blue line, took a pass from Frederic and drove down the left wing untouched. He cut into the middle, and in front of the net, calmly slid the puck into the left corner for a 2-0 Wisconsin lead. The goal was Kunin’s team-leading 16th of the season.
Goal No. 3 for the visitors was scored during a five-minute power play after MSU freshman left wing Taro Hirose, the team’s second-leading scorer, was assessed a major penalty and game misconduct for kneeing Badgers defenseman Tim Davison at the MSU blue line at 13:47.
Wisconsin sophomore right wing Will Johnson scored from the top of the left circle at 15:05 with a low wrist shot that went between the pads of a screened Minney.
“When you turn the puck over, you make the game way harder,’’ Anastos said. So now you’re scrambling and have to work harder and that makes the game easier for the opposition.
“Look at the last 10 minutes of the game, at the turnovers we were able to cause and how it allowed us to build momentum.
“You have to play with emotion, with toughness and urgency and smarts, and we gave them too much leeway to do what they wanted to do, because we didn’t manage the puck very well.’’
In the second period, with Lethemon taking over for Minney, Wisconsin senior left wing Aidan Cavallini took advantage of a MSU turnover and a bad bounce behind the net and turned it into the Badgers’ fourth goal at 6:11.
Just 50 seconds later, Michigan State finally had something to celebrate.
Khodorenko tapped the puck away from Wisconsin defenseman JD Greenway at the MSU blue line and sped through the middle of the ice, developing a 2-on-1 break with Logan Lambdin. He cruised into the right circle, took a look toward Lambin, and let go with a wrist shot that caught the top left corner of the net for an unassisted goal at 7:01.
Unfortunately for the Spartans, Wisconsin got the goal back three minutes later to boost its lead to 5-1. Ryan Wagner took a pass in the slot from Cameron Hughes, who was behind the net, and beat Lethemon at 10:03. The goal was set up by two MSU turnovers and the inability to clear the zone.
Anastos said he didn’t believe his team came out flat, but it was more about execution and not playing smart defensively that put the Spartans in a hole they were never able to dig out of.
“I don’t think that it was because we were emotionally flat to start the game. We just didn’t execute very well,’’ he said. “That’s the part that bothered me. That’s focus and readiness. I don’t understand that. I don’t care that we had a week off. We should be hungry and eager to play.’’
Michigan State played its best in the second half of the third period, but a four-goal deficit was simply too much to overcome.
Khodorenko scored his second goal of the game, and sixth of the season, at 9:59. Villiam Haag took advantage of a Wisconsin giveaway at the blue line, got possession of the puck, turned and skated into the offensive zone. He pulled up in the left circle and fired a shot that was blocked, but the puck deflected into the open slot.
Khodorenko, trailing the play, raced in, gobbled up the loose puck and fired a shot on goal that Berry blocked. But Khodorenko found the rebound near the goal line to the left of the net and fired it off Berry and the puck caromed into the net at 9:59.b
MSU freshman center Sam Saliba made it 5-3 just 2 minutes and 45 seconds later when he took a centering pass from Brennan Sanford in the slot and beat Berry with a wrister to the top right corner. It was Saliba’s third goal of the season.
The Spartans had an excellent opportunity to cut Wisconsin’s lead to 5-4 with 6:33 left when Haag took a pass from Thomas Ebbing in the left circle and let go with a quick one-timer that Berry was able to slide to his right to make his biggest save of the night.
MSU pulled Lethemon for a sixth attacker with 2:30 to go, but the Badgers withstood the pressure, and after missing the empty net several times, mostly from long range, Frederic scored from close in at 19:48 with his second goal of the night.
“We just gave up way too may easy chances,’’ MSU senior captain and right wing Joe Cox said. “We stuck to our game plan pretty well, except for the fact that we didn’t give our goalies a fair shot. The opportunities they had were point blank. We gave up too many grade A chances.’’
So why have the Badgers been able to dominate the Spartans thus far this season? Is it because of Wisconsin’s high-level play or MSU’s lack of lack of execution defensively?
“I think it’s a little of both. They’re strong offensively and once they get you going in your zone, they’re good at finishing chances,’’ Cox said. “You can’t give them many good opportunities because their forwards will bury them.
“On our part, we have to play better defensively in our zone. That’s something we’ve been working on but we didn’t do it tonight. We didn’t see it until the end of the game.’’
KHODORENKO STANDS OUT: Freshman center Patrick Khodorenko’s game continues to improve each week, and on Friday he had one of his best outings of the season.
The 6-foot, 207-pound Khodorenko, who scored two goals and had four shots on goal, continued to show display his high-end skill and speed with a strong game against the Badgers.
He scored on an excellent shot from the right circle seven minutes into the second period and made it 5-2 midway through the final period, banking a shot off of Wisconsin goalie Jack Berry from along the goal line to the left of the net.
“A lot of his game continues to get better and it’s good for his confidence, good for his line and it’s a sign of progress,’’ MSU coach Tom Anastos said. “There are still areas of his game he has to improve, just like anybody else, but he’s capable to doing that.
“He carries a good shot, he’s got speed, he’s strong and he can move the puck. He had a good night overall.’’
With the two points, Khodorenko is now MSU’s third-leading scorer, behind Appleton and Hirose, with six goals and six assists for 12 points in 23 games. He has three goals in the Spartans’ last two games.
“I got a couple of lucky bounces,’’ Khodorenko said of his first two-goal game of his college career. “On the first one, their defenseman bobbled (the puck) and I was able to check the puck out from under him, went down the ice and got a lucky shot that went in.
“On the second one, Vil (Villiam Haag) got his shot blocked and the puck was sitting right there for me. The goalie made a great save on my first shot but I stuck with it and got another one, and it kind of went in off his back. I was along the goal line.’’
Khodorenko’s two goals gave him a boost of confidence on offense but didn’t make up for what showed scoreboard showed at the end of the game.
Friday’s 6-3 loss was vastly different from Michigan State’s last two games – a 3-0 victory and 2-2 tie against Michigan two weeks ago.
“In those two games, our whole team was going and we played well defensively. We didn’t give up many chances,’’ Khodorenko said. “Tonight, we gave them too many grade A chances.
“They come out really offensive and play the puck very well. They control it and make plays. We just have to be better on defense and not let them get behind us. They scored goals right in front of our crease.
“They finish. We had to have to do a little more of that, too. We turned it up in the third period and they weren’t playing as well as they had been. We were trying everything we could to get more shots and get their goalie to not see the puck.
“We were definitely buzzing at the end. We just have to play that way for 60 minutes.’’
HIROSE’S LOSS HURT: Michigan State’s offense and power play took a big hit when freshman left wing Taro Hirose was given a five-minute major penalty and game misconduct for a kneeing penalty on Wisconsin defenseman Tim Davison at 13:47 of the first period.
With Davison carrying the puck into the MSU zone, Hirose got in front of him and they collided, and their right knees collided, sending Davison crashing to ice and with an injury to his knee. He didn’t return to the game.
Wisconsin scored one goal on the five-minute power play to take a 3-0 lead, and with Hirose out of the game, the Spartans had to readjust their lines and power-play units.
Hirose is the Spartans’ second-leading scorer with four goals and 12 assists for 16 points in 23 games. Hirose has 10 assists on the power play and has been on the ice for 15 of MSU’s 17 power-play goals.
“That certainly presented a challenge. That’s when guys have to step up and deal with adversity,’’ Spartans coach Tom Anastos said of Hirose’s absence.
“Taro is not a dirty player. He wasn’t trying to intentionally hurt that player. It was kind of the position he was in. It was knee to knee, which nobody likes, but he doesn’t run around looking for that stuff.’’
Hirose was given a game misconduct, and not a game disqualification, so he won’t have to sit out Saturday’s game with a suspension, unless the Big Ten, in reviewing the play, believes the penalty warrants further disciplinary action. In most cases, if extra punishment is handed out, it results in a one-game suspension.
IN THE BIG TEN: Minnesota, which entered the weekend tied for first place with Wisconsin, scored one goal in the first period and added three more in the second period and cruised to a 5-1 victory over third-place Penn State on Friday in Minneapolis.
Rem Pitlick scored two goals in less than four minutes early in the second period to give the No. 7 Gophers (16-7-2, 7-2-0-0) a 3-0 lead. Minnesota has won nine of its last 11 games.
No. 6 Penn State (16-5-2, 5-3-1-0) has lost three straight and is winless in its last four games at 0-3-1).
Michigan dominated No. 11 Ohio State early, building a 5-1 lead after two periods, and then had to scramble to hold off the Buckeyes, who scored three goals in the first nine minutes in the third period. But OSU couldn’t get the tying goal as the Wolverines emerged with a 5-4 victory in Ann Arbor.
Sophomore forward Cooper Marody scored three goals, all coming in the second period, for fifth-place Michigan (9-12-2, 2-6-1-1), which ended a four-game winless streak and is now four points ahead Michigan State.
Ohio State (12-7-6, 3-5-1-1), has lost three in a row since tying and winning at Penn State two weeks ago, back into the game with two goals in the first 17 seconds of the third period.
Minnesota and Penn State and OSU and U-M close out their series on Saturday night.