An injury to Brent Darnell opened up the door for J.T. Stenglein to see his first action since Dec. 5. He made the most of it, notching a goal to help the Spartans on their way to a 3-0 win over Penn State at Munn Arena Friday night.
Goals from Mackenzie MacEachern, Stenglein and Matt DeBlouw gave Jake Hildebrand all the support he needed, as he stopped 28 shots for his third shutout of the season.
“Overall, it was a pretty solid effort on our part,” head coach Tom Anastos said. “I thought we managed the puck pretty well. I thought we defended pretty well for the most part. It’s a good start to the weekend.”
Michigan State is now 47-7-5 when scoring at least three goals under Anastos.
It was the first time Penn State has been shutout this season, and the 28 shots yielded by the Spartan defense was the lowest shot total the Nittany Lions have had since November 21 against Michigan.
Coming into Friday night’s contest, the Penn State offense averaged 41.6 shots per game. The top line of Casey Bailey, Taylor Holstrom and David Goodwin, who have combined for 35 goals and 43 assists on the season, were held to just five shots.
“Give credit to our whole team,” captain Michael Ferrantino said. “We were blocking shots and keeping them to the outside and making it tough for them to get into the scoring areas. I thought it was a real team effort on our end.”
As a team, the Spartans blocked 24 shots, certainly much more than the 10 blocked last Saturday at Soldier Field, which Anastos called “unacceptable” and “not us.”
Right from the get-go, the Spartans sent a message that Friday night’s game would not go the way the previous game against Penn State did. Top to bottom, all four lines, the Spartans maintained a solid amount of offensive pressure.
The Spartans broke the ice at the halfway point of the second period, when Matt Berry’s shot generated a rebound and MacEachern slid the puck past Penn State goaltender P.J. Musico, who came into the game with a 4-1-1 record to go with a 1.92 GAA and .938 save percentage.
Berry followed up his shot, which drew attention from the Penn State defenseman and created enough chaos to allow MacEachern a chance at the puck.
Just minutes later, Stenglein picked up the puck off of a Penn State turnover and beat Musico to the blocker side.
“It was a fake shot that was intentional, but I kind of faked myself out too I think, but it ended up working,” Stenglein said. “It felt really good.”
Villiam Haag and Thomas Ebbing assisted on Stenglein’s second of the season and first since opening night on Oct. 17.
“J.T. scored a big goal,” Anastos said. “I thought that was a goal scorer’s type goal. He’s scored in junior hockey, and we brought him here to score. He’s trying to find a game that translates from where he played to playing here.”
Prior to Michigan State, Stenglein played two full seasons with the Youngstown Phantoms of the USHL, where he set a franchise record with 31 goals in the 2011-2012 season. The following year, the Greece, New York native was traded first to the Sioux City Musketeers and then to the Waterloo Blackhawks. Despite playing on three teams, Stenglein still managed 55 points in 58 total games.
The 2-0 lead was helped out by another solid effort on the penalty kill that successfully killed three Penn State power plays, and only allowing one total shot, before the Spartans grabbed the lead.
The Nittany Lions had a golden opportunity to cut the lead in half in the third period when Eric Scheid broke in on a breakaway, but Hildebrand came up with a big, and authoritative, right pad save to keep Penn State off the board.
“You need key saves at key times and he did that,” Anastos said of Hildebrand’s performance. “He’s been playing real well and we need him to play real well.”
After carrying the play in the third period, DeBlouw ripped a one-timer from Berry that beat Musico, who was screened by MacEachern, that allowed the Spartans to breathe a little easier. That marks three goals in three games for DeBlouw.
“It’s definitely high,” DeBlouw said of his confidence level during this hot streak. “But I’m not trying to dwell on it because that’s when you start thinking too much, pressing too much, and I don’t need to do that.
Anastos was very impressed on that whole line’s performance. Berry, DeBlouw and MacEachern combined for two goals, four assists and nine shots.
“I thought DeBlouw had a really good game tonight,” Anastos said. “That was one of the best games I can recall him playing. I thought he played strong defensively. He was good on faceoffs. He possessed the puck and made good decisions with it.”
The DeBlouw line, I thought, had a real good game tonight. I thought they’ve been real average the last few weeks even though they scored a couple goals. I’d like to see them step up even higher and sustain it.”
Down 3-0, Penn State coach Guy Gadowsky decided to pull Musico with 5:25 left in the third, after a pair of penalties resulted in two minutes of four-on-four hockey.
“The disadvantage was we couldn’t ice the puck,” Anastos said. “So we’re killing a penalty, but we can’t ice the puck because we’re at even strength. You might be able to say five against four, as opposed to six against five, even though you have an extra defender out there, five on four you know your assignments, you’re organized. Six against five we were a little disorganized relatively speaking. Our guys stepped up.”
A penalty to Penn State’s Holstrom with under two minutes left solidified a big win for Michigan State.
“I thought start to finish we played pretty consistently for sixty minutes,” Ferrantino said. “I thought it was one of our best games.”
The mentality, just like it has been since the calendar turned to January, was still all business.
“I think we’re trying to change our mindset about Friday night wins. I think earlier in the year we had Friday night wins and we were satisfied, and now we’re past that point. We know we need to get six points.”
The Spartans feel that they are going to need an even better effort tonight.
“They’re going to come back a lot stronger tomorrow,” Stenglein said. “They have a good coach over there, so they’re going to be ready to go. We just need to bring the same effort, and then some, tomorrow at both ends of the ice.”
Brian Bobal is the co-host of Behind the Mask for Impact Sports
Photo: Brian Bobal/Impact Sports