EAST LANSING — The Michigan State Spartans welcomed the Golden Gophers of Minnesota to Munn Ice Arena during an end-of-week showdown on Dec. 3 and 4. The Spartans held their own on both nights, but ultimately got swept by the then No. 5 Gophers. In a long overdue analysis of that eerie series, we will dive into what happened on those early December nights. Here are Three B1G Things from the Spartans’ series against the Minnesota Golden Gophers.
1. Penalty kill trouble
Heading into game one, the Spartans had enjoyed a relatively decent penalty kill percentage that saw them ranked 10th in the nation at an 87% kill rate. That all changed against a hot power play team like Minnesota that was ranked sixth in the nation at a 25% success rate on the man advantage.
The Spartans gave up two goals on the PK in a penalty-ridden game one. The Spartans, who came in committing around four penalties per game, committed six in the series opener. A Christian Krygier high-sticking penalty led to a Ben Meyers goal, and an Aiden Gallacher tripping call led to a Scott Reedy goal resulting in a quick 3-0 lead for the Gophers. Reedy, who has been Minnesota’s leading goal scorer (three), was tasked with keeping the Gopher offense rolling with the loss of senior forward Brannon McManus.
In game one, Minnesota was able to put 13 shots on MSU goalie Drew DeRidder during the power play, scoring on nine. The Gophers went 2-for-6 on the man advantage and were able to keep the Spartans from finding their footing early in the series.
Game two followed a similar story. The Spartans would commit three penalties, but were able to mitigate the damage from the previous night. Tied 2-2, with just over five minutes to play in the second, Scott Reedy scored his second goal of the series on the power play off a faceoff win in the MSU zone. That goal would prove to be the game-winner and series-clincher for the Gophers.
To recap, the Spartans gave up three power play goals on nine penalties for a kill rate of 67%, well below their average heading into the series. A young Spartan team will need to work on the amount of penalties it takes against some high-quality power play teams it will face in Big Ten play.
2. Slow starts prove costly
If penalties were not enough to spell trouble, then surely giving up goals in the first period would do the trick.
The Spartans came into the series 1-1 when opponents scored first, which doesn’t say much given it is a young season. However, the Spartans were 4-16 last season when opponents scored first. The Spartans, historically, do not have a good track record when the opponent scores first and that would once again show against Minnesota.
The Gophers were able to get off to fast starts in both games, occupying a 4-1 advantage in first-period scoring at the end of the series. The Gophers were able to amass a two-goal lead both nights, but Kyle Haskins’ first goal as a Spartan was able to cut into Minnesota’s first-period lead in game two.
Heading into the series, the Spartans sat fourth in the nation in shots on goal per game at 39. In fact, MSU had eclipsed 40 shots in three-straight games, a feat the Spartans had not reached since the CCHA Playoffs in 2008.
However, the Spartans were unable to unload a barrage of shots against Minnesota throughout the series. The Spartans mustered only 24 shots in game one, with eight of those coming in the first period. Game two would be slightly better, but only two of the Spartans’ 32 shots were able to find their way past Minnesota’s senior goalie Jack LaFontaine.
The Spartans were outshot 31-15 in the first period during the series and outscored 4-1 in first periods as well. The Spartans would find their footing in both the second and third periods, but by then Minnesota had already opened up leads that were too big to come back from.
3. Spartans stick to their strengths
Even though the Spartans did not enjoy the spoils of victory against Minnesota, there were some positives to point out.
First, the Spartans continue to dominate the faceoff circle. Heading into the weekend, the Spartans and the Gophers ranked first and second in the nation in faceoffs, respectively. However, the Spartans would give the Gophers a master class on the dots, beating them 31-27 in game one and 42-23 in game two.
Senior Tommy Apap led the Spartans on faceoffs, winning 27 of his 41 draws. Mitchell Mattson and Josh Nodler also had respectable performances in the dots, especially in game two when they combined for 18 wins on 27 draws.
Secondly, defensemen scoring made a comeback. Cole Krygier would get his first goal of the season and the only Spartan goal in MSU’s 3-1 loss in game one. Dennis Cesana would find the scoresheet in game two, scoring his first of the season. In total, three defensemen have scored for the Spartans so far this season.
Lastly, Kyle Haskins looks like a man on a mission. The freshman from Huntington, Vt. has had himself quite a season so far, amassing four points in six games including scoring his first goal as a Spartan in game two to put the Spartans on the board. Haskins came into the series riding a three-game point streak that was snapped after game one of the series.
The Spartans have continued to get scoring from their young forwards and have begun to get the defense more involved in the offensive zone. With Cesana and Haskins getting on the scoresheet, the Spartans might be able to find an offensive breakthrough where they weren’t even looking.
The Spartans (2-3-1, 1-3-1 Big Ten) will head to South Bend, Ind. to take on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish (4-4, 3-3 Big Ten) on Dec. 19 and Dec. 20.
Cameron McClarren is a hockey beat reporter for WDBM Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @Cam_McClarren.