Michigan State welcomes in No. 19 Wisconsin

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Michigan State welcomes in No. 19 Wisconsin

John Lethemon/Photo: MSU Athletic Communications

John Lethemon/Photo: MSU Athletic Communications

John Lethemon/Photo: MSU Athletic Communications

John Lethemon/Photo: MSU Athletic Communications

Kyle Hatty, Hockey Beat Reporter

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Conference play continues in the Big Ten for the Michigan State hockey team this weekend at Munn Ice Arena as Michigan State (6-7-1, 4-3-1 Big Ten) welcomes in No. 19 Wisconsin (7-8-1, 2-5-1 Big Ten). Michigan State currently sits at fourth place in the Big Ten while Wisconsin is second-to-last, only ahead of Michigan.

Both teams are coming off of weekends where they got swept by Big Ten heavyweights. Michigan State lost two afternoon games to Ohio State, and Wisconsin got swept by Penn State in Happy Valley.

Michigan State has been a very tough team to generate offense against this season, but Wisconsin will not be easy to slow down. The Badgers bring with them what might be the best individual player that Michigan State will see all year in freshman forward Cole Caufield. Caufield was selected No. 15 overall in this year’s NHL Draft by the Montréal Canadiens and his collegiate career has been off to a hot start. In his first 16 Division I games, Caufield has 18 points (10 goals, eight assists) and five of those 10 have come on the power play. If the Spartans  want to win any games this weekend, they will need to slow Caufield down.

Michigan State will also need to produce more offense than it has in recent matchups. Wisconsin is a fast offensive team that generates a lot of scoring chances and Michigan State’s offense has been sluggish ever since the series against Michigan. To change that, the top line will have to start producing more.

The Spartans’ best offensive player this year has been forward Patrick Khodorenko. He has taken home Big Ten Player of the Week honors so far this year, but has been kept off the score sheet in the last two weekends against Notre Dame and Ohio State. The lone point from Michigan State last week in Columbus came from Khodorenko’s winger, Mitchell Lewandowski, on an unassisted goal. If those two, along with freshman winger Nicolas Müller get going, Michigan State should be able to keep up offensively.

Another big storyline to watch this weekend will be penalties. Michigan State is taking 10.8 penalty minutes per game, and Wisconsin has taken 12.9 penalty minutes per game. How the game is called by the officials could play a role in the outcome. Both teams are top-20 in the nation in power play percentage, which means this could be decided by whichever team gets more power play opportunities.

 If the officials don’t let them play and call the game tight, it could disrupt the flow and never allow Wisconsin’s offense to gain any momentum. However, that could play into Michigan State’s advantage because the Spartans would get a more defensive game, which is the type of game they thrive in. But if the game is called less strict, Wisconsin could use its playmakers and generate too much offense for the Spartans to keep up with.

 The games will be played in East Lansing and Michigan State is 3-0 in conference play at home. Puck drop will be at 7 p.m. both nights.

Contact Kyle Hatty at kylehatty14@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter at @KyleHattyIN.