The Big Ten portion of Michigan State’s schedule is now underway. With a more competitive conference, the Spartans (4-15-1 OVR, 0-6-0 B1G), looked to keep their head above water against one of the nation’s best in Penn State (16-2-1 OVR, 5-1-0 B1G). The Nittany Lions proved to be too much for the Spartans as they were swept, 5-2 and 5-3 in games one and two respectively at Pegula Ice Arena in University Park, PA. Their eighth and ninth straight losses this season.
Coming into this series, it was crucial that the Spartans play a strong defensive game as the Nittany Lions have the best offense in the nation, averaging 4.58 goals per game. Penn State certainly lived up to that standard as they drown the Spartans with ten total goals.
The so-called kryptonite that has been ailing MSU for a while now has been their inability to play a full 60-minute hockey game. Whether it’s a hot start and slow finish, or vice versa, the Spartans rarely seem to put a consistent performance together.
That was exactly the case in this weekend series. The Spartans scored first in both of the games this past weekend, defenseman Zach Osburn netted his third of the season in game one and freshman standout Taro Hirose scored his fourth in game two. After that, the Nittany Lion offense took over and left no room for a Spartans offense, who was already struggling to score, to get back into the game.
But the inconsistencies don’t stop there. The Spartans lead 2-1 in game two after 40 minutes of play. Goals by Hirose and Mason Appleton gave the Spartans an advantage. But the dominant offense of Penn State, apparent by their 97 total shots in the series, struck quickly and often, diminishing any chance of snapping Spartan the losing streak.
When an offense is struggling, like the Spartans are, one area of play that can be looked to as a get back on track can be the power play. MSU had plenty of chances with the man advantage, eight to be exact, but the fourth best penalty kill in the nation shut them down and the Spartans converted on just two of those opportunities.
On the penalty kill side of special teams for the Spartans, their last place penalty kill held their own against the nation’s 11th-ranked power play. Penn State had eight opportunities with a man advantage, but like MSU, only converted on two. Game one saw MSU kill all three of their penalties, but the Spartans allowed power play goals to Chase Berger and Dylan Richard in the second game.
On a team that relies heavily on its underclassmen, Spartan hockey fans can take solace in the fact that the young kids on this team have shown flashes of true skill. Appleton, a sophomore, recorded his team leading 9th goal and 10th assist on the season. Osburn (1G, 1A), Hirose (1,G, 2A) and Sam Saliba (1A), all sophomores or younger, recorded points as well.
Coming into the season, there was the possibility that with all the young talent on this team, the Spartans could take off and finally get their game back to the level of greatness that it once was. There was also the possibility that with all the college level inexperience on this team, they could fall flat on their faces. It is now obvious that the latter has come to fruition. Regardless, this team has the talent. It’s just a matter of finding the right way to make it all click.