Series Grades: Men’s Hockey vs. Michigan State
After a heartbreaking sweep to the Michigan Wolverines, the No. 6 Penn State Nittany Lions needed to get back in the win column against the Michigan State Spartans, who were first in the Big Ten going into the series. The Spartans took game one 4-2, but Penn State responded with a 2-1 overtime win thanks to freshman forward Connor McMenamin's game-winning goal. Let's take a look at the series grades.
The Nittany Lions struggled to get any high-quality scoring opportunities. Michigan State combined for a total of 41 blocked shots and this caused Michigan State goaltender John Lethemon to make easy saves. Penn State would sometimes throw the puck on goal from center ice because they couldn’t get in the offensive zone cleanly.
Defenseman Cole Hults and forward Tyler Gratton were the only goal scorers in game one. Forward Nate Sucese scored a late goal in game two to give the Nittany Lions a 1-0 lead going into the third. The only way that Penn State was going to score on Lethemon, was with either a deflection, a screen in front of the net, or a bad bounce to catch him off guard. Sucese scored via deflection, and McMenamin scored via a bad carum.
Penn State’s defense has not been pretty at all this season. It was most apparent in this series with careless turnovers and poor defensive zone coverage. The Nittany Lions allowed many high-danger scoring opportunities in the slot, the area between the two faceoff circles, in both games. With the aggressive forecheck of Michigan State, Penn State was forced to retreat deep in their own zone creating turnovers. Penn State even gave up a short-handed goal just 23 seconds into the third period.
This whole series was all about goaltending. Peyton Jones and Lethemon both kept their respective team in the game when things got close around the net. Penn State easily could’ve been swept without the tremendous play of Jones. In the second game, he stopped 42 of 43 shots. Though he did look uncomfortable at times, he responded brilliantly with strong rebound control and quickness from post to post.
It’s conference play from here on out and Penn State got a huge three points on Saturday to move up to sixth in the PairWise. Penalties are still a problem, as the Nittany Lions took five in this series, but the penalty kill was very good.
Michigan State went 1-for-6 on the power play, but as the playoffs approach, Gadowsky needs to keep his team out of the penalty box, while also keeping in mind that defenseman Clayton Phillips got injured in the first game and did not play on Saturday, and that the team is still without captain Brandon Biro. Gadowsky has some more tinkering to do to the lineup going into the big series against Notre Dame.
Jacob Cheris is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.