Series Grades: Michigan State
After a surprising sweep of No. 12 Wisconsin, No. 6 Penn State looked to carry that momentum into a home series against Michigan State. The Spartans came into the first game of a two-game set with a defensive mindset, forcing Penn State to shoot pucks from up high. Michigan State blocked 31 shots in the first game, read passes well, and caused lots of turnovers, resulting in a 2-0 victory over the Nittany Lions.
The second game, however, told a completely different story, as Penn State’s offense finally came to life, scoring three goals in the second period, resulting in a 6-4 win. The highlight of the second game came from Penn State forward Evan Barratt’s fantastic goal: quite similar to the one that he scored against Michigan last year. With the two-game set now complete, here are the series grades for each of Penn State’s units:
Despite coming up empty in Game 1, Penn State had tons of scoring opportunities in the first game. The Nittany Lions just couldn’t capitalize. Michigan State goaltender John Lethemon was outstanding, stopping all 48 shots. Penn State struggled mightily to break the puck out cleanly and combat against a heavy Michigan State forecheck. Passes were not tape-to-tape, especially in the offensive zone, which allowed Michigan State to transition quickly from defense to offense.
In Game 2, the Nittany Lions got off to a fast start with a goal from forward Nikita Pavlychev, followed by Barratt’s spectacular goal six minutes later. Both goals were caused by heavy offensive presence at the net in front of Lethemon: something that was unnoticed in Game 1. Penn State would later get tack on goals from forwards Alex Limoges, Sam Sternschein and Denis Smirnov, as well as defenseman Clayton Phillips: his first as a Nittany Lion.
Penn State didn’t allow Michigan State to get a lot of opportunities in high-danger scoring areas in either game. One out of the two goals in Game 1 was caused by a freak bounce off the boards, and the other was on an empty net.
Though they won the second game because of the offense finding its groove, the Nittany Lions also played more of a structured defense, which included 17 blocked shots and more active sticks in the defensive zone. Late in the second period, and throughout the third period, Penn State started to take their foot off the gas, resulting in three unanswered goals from the Spartans. The Nittany Lions were outshot 12-7 in the third, but they held on just enough to get the win.
Penn State goaltender Peyton Jones was outstanding yet again with a total of 47 saves. Jones was quick from post-to-post and was solid when there were scrambles in front of him. With the amount of penalties that Penn State took late in Game 2, Jones and the penalty-killing unit were strong yet again despite heavy net-front presence from Michigan State. Jones was locked in and looked comfortable in the crease. He had a .943 save percentage and a 1.74 goals against average in the series.
Penn State head coach Guy Gadowsky has always emphasized gap control between defensemen. This led to Michigan State having to take the puck wide, and the Spartans were eventually trapped along the boards because of it.
The big problem for this team throughout the year has been getting into penalty trouble. Although Penn State didn’t take any penalties in Game 1, the Nittany Lions had seven penalties in Game 2. Most of them involved stick plays, such as tripping, hooking and slashing. Although Penn State’s penalty kill only allowed two power-play goals, Gadowsky has to keep his team disciplined. Defenseman Cole Hults took a careless unsportsmanlike penalty late in the first period of Game 2.
Gadowsky adjusted to Michigan State’s defensive plan, and this frustrated the Spartans. Penn State had a heavy forecheck and won lots of battles along the boards, resulting in high-quality chances. Line changes were usually crisp, but even on the sloppy ones, Penn State was able to adjust quickly.
Jacob Cheris is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.