Nov. 29, 2012
By Neil Koepke, MSUSpartans.com
EAST LANSING - Two of Michigan State's most memorable games this season have been victories in which the Spartans' offense was at its best.
Remember the 6-1 win at Bowling Green on Nov. 3 in which MSU broke loose for two goals in the first period and added three more in the second? A key factor in that romp was the power play, which contributed four goals.
Then, the most rewarding triumph of the Spartans' four victories came one week later. MSU struck for four goals in the first period and cruised to a 7-2 win over Michigan at Munn Arena.
This time, the power play chipped in with two goals before the game was 11 minutes old.
Despite the 13 goals scored on back-to-back Saturday's in early November, the Spartans' overall offense is suffering from inconsistency.
In 12 games this season, MSU (4-6-2 overall, 3-4-1 CCHA) has scored two or fewer goals in seven contests - 6-1 and 5-1 losses at Minnesota, a 3-2 defeat at Lake Superior State, a 1-0 loss at home against Bowling Green, a 5-1 setback at Michigan and a 2-2 tie and 2-0 loss (with only 13 shots on goal) at Miami two weeks ago.
In those seven games, MSU is 0-6-1. In five games in which they've scored three or more goals, the Spartans are 4-0-1.
Michigan State will be striving to score three goals or more in each game this weekend as it hosts Ohio State (6-4-3, 4-2-2-1) at 8 p.m. on Friday and 6 p.m. on Saturday at Munn Arena.
"We have to get better at 5-on-5 play ... when we're at even strength,'' MSU coach Tom Anastos said. "We need to have good special teams and thus far they've been pretty good. We need it to continue.
"As we move on, we need to get more 5-on-5 production from more players. That's going to be a key to having longer term success this season.''
The Spartans have scored 30 goals in 12 games for an average of 2.50, but 12 goals have come on the power play, which ranks No. 1 in CCHA play with an impressive 29.7 percent rate of efficiency. In overall play, MSU (24.5) is second to Ferris State (25.4).
Besides the power play, the bright spot on offense has been the play by the line of freshman center Matt DeBlouw, sophomore right wing Matt Berry and sophomore left wing Brent Darnell - the Spartans' top three scorers.
Berry leads with seven goals and six assists for 13 points. DeBlouw is second with four goals and seven assists for 11 points and Darnell follows with three goals and seven assists for 10 points.
The unit has combined for 14 goals - 47 percent of MSU's total of 30 goals - and 35 points - 40 percent of the team's point production. Berry four goals and eight points on the power play, Wolfe has a goal and three assists for four points and Darnell's three point have come on a goal and two assists.
The Spartans' next three top scorers - center Lee Reimer (2 goals, six assists, 8 points), right wing Greg Wolfe (2-5-7) and forward Tanner Sorenson (3-4-7) have contributed eight goals and 22 points.
Reimer and Wolfe, both juniors, are MSU's top returning scorers. Last season, Reimer was third in team scoring, behind Torey Krug and Brett Perlini, with nine goals and 30 points, while Wolfe was fourth with 10 goals and 26 points.
"Right now, we're not getting offensive output across the board. It's been erratic,'' Anastos a young said. "I don't think inconsistency is surprising for a young team, but you can only accept that for so long. You have to keep trying to find ways.
"You're constantly trying to find the right mix. We'll be doing some experimenting with some lines.''
Switching lines around starts this weekend since Reimer will sit out Friday's game against OSU with a one-game suspension for his major penalty for checking from behind against Miami in MSU's last game on Nov. 17.
Meanwhile, freshman Ryan Keller is ready to play after missing eight games with an upper body injury suffered in late October. He's played in only four games.
Perking up its offense will be a huge challenge for MSU over the next three weeks because they face three teams with strong defenses and solid goals-against averages - Ohio State (2.08 GAA), Notre Dame (1.69) and Ferris State (2.50).
"We've been playing some really good defensive teams - teams that are giving up around two goals a game and are in the top 10 in the nation. This week, we're playing another,'' Anastos said of the Buckeyes, whose defense ranks 9th nationally and 3rd in the CCHA.
"Based on their numbers, you have to score at least three goals to beat them. We have to find consistency in our scoring and, at the same time, continue to get better defensively and lower our goals against average (2.92).''
Senior forward and alternate captain Chris Forfar agrees that one of the negatives to the early season is MSU's struggles to put the puck in the net on a regular basis.
"We've showed that when we show up we can play pretty well and the offense can get rolling,'' he said. "But it's not been enough.
"We're working on it every day, trying to level out the inconsistencies and make it a smooth ride for all of us.''
OSU's top four scorers are sophomores. Tanner Fritz leads with (2-9) 11 points, Ryan Dzingel has (5-5) 10, Max McCormick (4-4) eight and Matt Johnson (4-1) five.
The Buckeyes have only four seniors on the roster, including goalie Brady Hjelle (3-2-2, 1.45 GAA, .950 save percentage), who's shared duties with freshman Collin Olson (2-2-1, 2.68, .914). Hjelle, from International Falls, Minn transferred to OSU from Minnesota-Duluth in 2011. ... The Buckeyes are coming off a CCHA series split at Lake Superior State - a 4-1 win and 3-2 loss last weekend.
MSU's penalty killing is No. 3 in the CCHA in overall games at 86.8 percent. In league games, it's No. 2 at 88.2 percent. The Spartans have allowed only seven power-play goals in 53 opportunities by opponents. They've skated off their last 13 straight shorthanded situations, including going 7-for-7 against highly skilled Miami.
Meanwhile, Hildebrand played both games of a series for the first time against the RedHawks, giving up four goals. He was outstanding in the second game, keeping the Spartans close late in the n2-0 loss. Hildebrand, in fact, has started the last three games, beginning with the 7-2 win over Michigan on Nov. 10.