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Neil's Notebook: Spartans Out of Sync in Loss

Tanner Sorenson

March 8, 2014

By Neil Koepke staff writer

ANN ARBOR - One of the main reasons Michigan State has had a chance to win almost every game it has played this season is solid, efficient defense.

The Spartans have won three games by one goal, played seven ties, lost four games by one goal and five by two. The defensemen and forwards have combined to give MSU consistent team defense.

In fact, going into this weekend, the Spartans ranked 13th in the nation with a 2.35 goals-against average.

On Friday, however, Michigan State was not in sync defensively, and poor decisions and mistakes, along with some bad-luck deflections, led to one of the most frustrating games of the season - a 7-1 loss to Michigan in front of an announced crowd of 5,800 at Yost Arena.

"I just didn't like how we looked on defense. I thought we looked lethargic,'' MSU coach Tom Anastos said. "And it (hurt us) over a period of time because we made costly turnovers and they either led to penalties or miscues. We got back on our heels.''

The Spartans trailed 2-1 after the first period, gave up three unanswered goals in the second - two that deflected off MSU defensemen - and the Wolverines added two more in the third period.

MSU's misery started early. U-M scored 54 seconds after the opening faceoff. The Wolverines stole the puck behind the Spartan net, centered it in front to a wide-open Derek DeBlois, who easily fired it past MSU goalie Jake Hildebrand.

Seven minutes later, Luke Moffat knocked the puck loose near right point in the Spartan zone and raced down the right wing untouched. He went in alone to beat Hildebrand with a perfect shot over the goaltender's left shoulder for a 2-0 U-M lead.

The Spartans actually got back into the game and had some momentum late in the period after Matt Berry scored a power-play goal at 14:45. Tanner Sorenson's shot from the point in the middle hit the right post and caromed over to Berry just below the left circle. Berry hit the open net for his seventh goal of the season.



"As the period went on, we were building some momentum and I liked some of the things I saw,'' Anastos said.

Michigan State hoped to continue its momentum in the second period, but after it failed to convert on an early power play, the Spartans' Thomas Ebbing took a slashing penalty at 5:10 and Michigan converted 45 seconds later. Zack Hyman deflected Alex Guptill's shot from the point past Hildebrand at 5:55 to give U-M a 3-1 lead.

Two goals late in the period on deflections off Spartans sealed MSU's fate. Phil Di Giuseppe's centering pass caromed into the net off the skate of Spartan defenseman RJ Boyd and U-M junior defenseman Andrew Sinelli's shot from an angle on the right went in off defenseman Travis Walsh's stick and the Wolverines were up 5-1.

"It was difficult to overcome some of the goals that we gave up," Anastos said. "One went in off Boyd's skate, another off Walsh's stick. Their first goal (of the period), they made a good play on a deflection. We weren't able to recover (from those goals).''

The Spartans, who outshot U-M 11-4 in the first period, managed only one shot on goal in the middle period. The Wolverines had 11 shots on goal in that period. Things got worse for MSU in the third period as Sinelli scored two goals - at 7:31 and 18:12 (5-on-3 power play) - for his first career hat trick. Sinelli, a forward who has been playing on the blue line most of this season because of injuries, had only four career goals before Saturday and one this season.

Hildebrand, who didn't have much of chance on any of the five goals he allowed, played on the first two periods and made 12 saves. Senior Will Yanakeff took over in the third period and stopped 11 shots and gave up the two goals to Sinelli, one of which also bounced off a Spartan.

"With how we many shots we block every night, pucks are bound to bounce the wrong way,'' Hildebrand said. "When you have nights like this you just want to forget about it. You have to have a short memory.''

Hildebrand and his teammates expect better things in the Big Ten series finale with the Wolverines at 7 p.m. Saturday at Munn Arena.

"It's probably the worse feeling I've had in a long time,'' MSU captain Greg Wolfe said. "I think our guys will be hungry. This is going to leave a bad taste. We know that kind of stuff can't happen. We're going to swallow that pill and focus on Saturday.''

After defeating Michigan 3-0 in the Great Lakes Invitational third-place game at Comerica Park on Dec. 28, MSU has lost three straight to the Wolverines - 2-1 at Joe Louis Arena on Jan. 23, 5-2 at Munn Arena on Jan. 24 and now 7-1 at Yost Arena. Friday's loss was the first time U-M had scored seven or more goals on the Spartans since an 8-1 win on Feb. 17, 1996, at Joe Louis Arena.

"We have to figure out a way to put it behind us and look ahead ... easier said than done,'' Anastos said. "The important thing is we have to get focused (on Saturday's game). We're not feeling good about this performance. We have to regroup and have a better effort and give ourselves a chance.''

Last season, MSU opened its first series against Michigan with a 5-1 loss in Ann Arbor. The next night, the Spartans rebounded in a big way with a 7-2 victory at Munn Arena.

CHIPPY AT THE END: Things got a little emotional and physical in the third period with the game already decided. The Spartans took exception to a crunching hit behind the net by U-M's Derek DeBlois on MSU defenseman Rhett Holland.

They tried to reply with big hits of their own, but as Thomas Ebbing went to hit U-M defenseman Nolan De Jong in the neutral zone, he got his elbow or shoulder up and made contact with De Jong's head. Ebbing received a five-minute major penalty for contact to the head and a game misconduct at 18:02. Since the penalty wasn't a game disqualification, Ebbing will be eligible to play in Saturday's rematch.

After De Jong fell to the ice, MSU's Dean Chelios gave him a jab with his stick.

Chelios was penalized for hitting after the whistle. With a 5-on-3 power play, U-M closed out the scoring on Sinelli's third goal, on a one-timer from the point at 18:12.

MSU was 1-for-3 on the power play. U-M was 2-for-5.

IN THE BIG TEN: Minnesota is a step closer to clinching the first Big Ten regular-season championship after a 5-1 victory at Ohio State on Friday. The first-place Gophers, ranked No. 1 in the nation, hold a seven-point lead over second-place Wisconsin, with three games left for each team.

The Badgers kept pace with Minnesota by defeating Penn State, 4-2, in State College, Pa.

But the Gophers can wrap up the title on Saturday with a win over the Buckeyes or a Wisconsin loss at Penn State.

With OSU and MSU both losing, the Buckeyes remain three points ahead of the Spartans, with three games remaining. Next weekend, MSU plays host to Wisconsin, while OSU plays at Penn State.

It looks almost certain that Ohio State and Michigan State will meet in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament on March 20 as No. 4 and 5 seeds. The winner faces the No. 1 seed, most likely Minnesota.

The only way the Buckeyes can overtake Michigan and finish third is to beat Minnesota on Saturday and to sweep PSU next weekend, while the Wolverines lose at MSU on Saturday and get swept by Minnesota next weekend.

NHL SPARTANS, WOLVERINES: As of Friday night, both Michigan State and Michigan had 14 former players in the National Hockey League. Actually, MSU had a 14-13 lead until Friday when the Washington Capitals called up ex-Wolverine forward Chris Brown from the American Hockey League. The Capitals acquired Brown in a trade from the Phoenix Coyotes on Wednesday.

Spartans in the NHL include: Drew Miller, Justin Abdelkader, Red Wings; Ryan Miller, St. Louis; Torey Krug, Corey Potter, Boston; Shawn Horcoff, Dallas; John-Michael Liles, Carolina; Mike Weaver, Montreal; Duncan Keith, Chicago; Jeff Petry, Edmonton; Adam Hall, Philadelphia; David Booth, Vancouver; Chris Slater, Winnipeg, and Corey Tropp, Columbus.

Overall, 17 former Spartan players have played in the NHL this season. The three others are Chris Mueller, Dallas; Tim Kennedy, Phoenix, and Derek Grant, Ottawa.

SPARTAN POTPOURRI: Defenseman RJ Boyd, who's been recovering from a sprained ankle suffered while warming up off the ice before the Wisconsin series two weeks ago, was in the lineup on Friday and played a regular shift. ... Matt Berry's power-play goal in the first period was MSU's first in five games, dating back to the 2-2 tie at Ohio State on Feb. 8, when the Spartans two power-play goals. MSU went 18 straight power plays without scoring.

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