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Neil's Notebook: Winning Streak Stopped at Penn State

Nov. 25, 2017

By Neil Koepke staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Michigan State's bid to increase its winning streak to four games fell short against Penn State here Friday night.

Way short.

How way short?

How about 7-2 way short.

Things looked bad for the Spartans when the Nittany Lions scored two goals before the game was three minutes old.

But the situation got a little better when MSU sophomore left wing Taro Hirose got a goal back, set up by a hustling play by sophomore center Patrick Khodorenko at 7:35 of the first period to make it 2-1.

However, things went back to looking gloomy when Penn State added two goals before the first period ended.

Down 4-1, MSU never recovered and the Nittany Lions cruised to a 7-2 victory in the Big Ten series opener in front of a sellout crowd of 5,921 at Pegula Ice Arena.

After a 2-0 win over Wisconsin and a 3-2, 3-1 sweep of Ferris State last weekend, the Spartans (7-6 overall, 1-4 Big Ten) didn't have much jump, were sloppy on defense, didn't get stellar goaltending and didn't have a finishing touch around the net.

It added up to MSU's worst loss of the season.

The good news?

Well, there wasn't much positive about Friday's game, but the Spartans will get an opportunity to make amends on Saturday in the series finale at 8 p.m., and fly home with a Big Ten split.

Two weeks ago, Michigan State lost the series opener to Wisconsin, 6-3, at Munn Area, but rebounded the next night with a solid effort in a 2-0 victory to earn a series split. The challenge is to follow the same script.

"For me, there were more positives in the Friday night loss to Wisconsin than there were tonight,'' MSU coach Danton Cole said. "But the response is always the important thing.



"We just have to be a lot better. Guys have to show up with a different attitude and we have to do a lot of things better as a team. We tried to do too many things individually. Like turning pucks over coming out (of the defensive zone) and turning pucks over going in (to the offensive zone).

"It's not a winning formula. We reverted back to some bad habits when the intensity cranked up.''

Here are some key moments in the first period that set the stage for a long night for the Spartans:

>> A few seconds after MSU goalie John Lethemon made a big save at the side of the net, the puck went back to the left point, where PSU defenseman Kris Myllari let go with a low wrister that found the left corner for a 1-0 lead at 1:00 of the period.

>> During the play that led to Myllari's goal, a delayed penalty was coming up to MSU defenseman Mitch Eliot for tripping. In college hockey, the goal doesn't wipe out the penalty, so PSU went on the power play and converted at 2:13 on an open shot by Evan Barratt from in front of the net for a quick 2-0 edge.

>> Just over five minutes later, Khodorenko chased a Nittany Lions defenseman behind the net, won the puck battle and centered it to an oncoming Hirose, who fired it past PSU goalie Peyton Jones. But the momentum didn't shift MSU's way because 49 seconds later, Liam Folkes got possession in the left circle and from a wide angle, fired the puck past Lethemon and into the open right corner. That ended Lethemon's night and in came senior goalie Ed Minney at 8:24.

>> With 7:40 left in the period, MSU junior forward Brennan Sanford sailed in on a breakaway, fakes left, goes to his right for a backhander that Jones stops.

>> With 1:58 left in the period, Penn State's Sam Sternschein took a long pass up the middle and cruised in and beat Minney for a 4-1 lead. With about 25 seconds left, MSU's Jake Smith skated in alone, but Jones again made the save on a backhand shot.

That's just one highlight and lots of lowlights for the Spartans over the first 20 minutes.

"That's where we needed a save and we had two breakaways and didn't score,'' Cole said of Penn State's third goal. "You're looking at a game that could have been 3-2 or even tied 3-3, but instead it's 4-1.

"They got two breakaway saves and we let in a couple that we're not happy about. It's not all the goalie's fault but just in general.''

Lethemon gave up three goals and made fives saves in 8 minutes and 24 seconds of playing time. Minney played 51:36, allowed four goals and stopped 25 shots.

PSU goalie Jones, who has struggled much of this season, played well against the Spartans, making 27 saves.

After Sternschein's second goal of the night, on a 2-on-1 rush 53 seconds of the middle period, Sanford got another breakaway, and this time he beat Jones with a wrister at 12:45 to cut PSU's lead to 5-2. Two minutes later, Folkes got his second goal the Nittany Lions' victory was sealed.

Andrew Sturtz of Penn State had the only goal of the third period, closing the scoring at 14:02.

"I didn't think we competed for pucks. We had one guy working and four guys watching too many times," Cole said. "When all five of guys worked, we actually got some things accomplished.''

"We're trying to re-establish some things with some different habits but we're not there yet. You introduce stress to the situation, it's proof that we're not there yet.''

Senior defenseman Carson Gatt didn't have any answers for MSU's poor start on Friday, but he's confident his team will rebound with a better effort Saturday.

"I'm not sure if we were all mentally ready to play,'' he said. "We have to play harder and can't be spotting teams, especially good teams, 2-0 and 4-1 leads after the first period.

"Sometimes, you have those off-games, so you have to have a short-term memory. We have half the weekend left so that's what we're building towards. We've done it before so that's our expectation, to come out and take it a shift at a tie. And play very, very hard and make it difficult for Penn State, and hopefully, at the end of he game, that'll bring us good results.''

WHEN THINGS GO BAD . . .: The Spartans didn't play well Friday and had some bad luck with an equipment issue to start the third period. Defenseman Carson Gatt didn't make an appearance on the ice for about the first 14 minutes due to a broke skate blade holder.

MSU equipment manger Tom Magee had to put a new blade holder on the skate and it took some time.

"I came into the locker room after the second period noticed it, and we thought we had it fixed,'' Gatt said. "I skated out for the third (period), looked down and it was just hanging there.

"Tom Magee had to cross the ice (to the MSU locker room) and replace the whole blade holder. It's an extensive process and he did a great job, working as fast as he could.

"I don't think my first shift was until there six minutes left in the game.''

Gatt missed out on a 5-on-3 MSU power play for 1 minute and 39 seconds starting at 9:08 of the final period. But freshman Tommy Miller took over Gatt's spot at the point running the power play. The power play was also missing forward Cody Milan, who was injured earlier in the game, with his spot being taken by Sam Saliba.

MSU had five shots on goal during the 5-on-4 and 5-on-3 power plays with Miller launching a couple one-timers from the left circle, including one that clanked off the crossbar.

Cole said Gatt's misfortune gave Miller an excellent opportunity to get some power-play time

"Miller jumped in and, for an 18-year-old freshman, he went out and did a really good job,'' Cole said. "We had pucks around the net and couldn't get in. That's how the game went.''

INJURY UPDATE: Junior defenseman Zach Osburn, who suffered a lower-body injury last Saturday at Ferris State, missed Friday's game.

Meanwhile, junior Cody Milan was injured in Friday's game and is questionable for Saturday's rematch. Milan is a mainstay on the power play with forwards Patrick Khodorenko, Taro Hirose and Mitchell Lewandowski and defenseman Carson Gatt.

MSU was 0-for-3 on the power play, although the last extra-man advantage in the final minute of play lasted only 25 seconds.

THE STAT SHEET: MSU's Taro Hirose has scored at least a point in five straight games with two goals and five assists for seven points. Hirose's streak started with an assist against Wisconsin on Nov. 10. Hirose is MSU's second leading scorer with four goals and 12 assists for 16 points, one behind Mitchell Lewandowski (9-8-17). Hirose has gone pointless in just two games -- at Minnesota in 3-1 and 4-0 losses, Nov. 3-4.

Lewandowski saw his four-game goal streak come to an end, but he had several quality chances Friday with five shots on goal. He had six goals during the four-game stretch, including two in the first game vs. Wisconsin and two in the series opener against Ferris State.

Hirose led the Spartans in shots on goal Friday and was followed by three each from Hirose, Brennan Sanford, Logan Lambdin, Sam Saliba and defenseman Tommy Miller. Sanford has a goal in each of this last two games and three for the season.

The Spartans have held an advantage in faceoffs in several games this season, but Friday wasn't one of them. Penn State won the faceoff battle, 42-28 with only freshman center Tommy Apap not finishing below .500. He was 9-9. Apap, MSU's top faceoff player (114-81) did have a milestone on Friday -- he earned his first collegiate assist when he sent Sanford into the clear with a good pass and Sanford scored in the second period. Apap has a goal and an assist in 13 games.

IN THE BIG TEN: In the battle of top six teams, No. 4 Notre Dame blanked No. 6 Minnesota 1-0, despite getting outshot, 44-23. Andrew Oglevie's scored the only goal, on a power play at 1:43 of the second period. The Gophers (9-5-1 overall, 3-3-1-1 Big Ten) held a 15-5 edge in shots over the Irish (11-3-1, 5-0-0-0) in the third period, but they couldn't solve sophomore goalie Cale Morris, who shutout Rensselaer, 1-0, last Saturday and won 1-0 vs. Penn State two weeks ago.

Morris and the Irish have allowed only 11 goals in the last eight games and have blanked opponents in three of their last four contests.

Meanwhile, No. 15 Ohio State broke a 1-1 tie in the third period on goals by John Wiitala at 7:24 and Freddy Gerard at 8:32 and the Buckeyes (7-3-2, 2-3-0-0) held on to defeat No. 17 Michigan (6-5-2, 2-3-2-1), 3-2, at Yost Arena. The Wolverines scored their second goal with 16 seconds left. Gerard had two goals for OSU, which trailed 1-0 after the first period.

No. 9 Wisconsin (8-5-2, 4-2-1-0) faces Mercyhurst on Saturday and Sunday.

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