EAST LANSING, Mich. — No. 12 Michigan State sleepwalked through the first period, but woke up in time for a few opportunistic goals to beat Ohio State 4-1 Friday.
Tim Kennedy and Chris Mueller scored a pair each for the Spartans, who remain unbeaten at home on the season (6-0-1).
“I don’t know if we were tired or tentative early,” said MSU coach Rick Comley. “But that type of big and physical team always seems to frustrate us. We couldn’t generate anything. It was just a ho-hum first period and then we gave up a bad goal.”
The Buckeyes held the Spartans to a single shot on goal in the first period by playing physical, tight defense.
“We played a great period to hold that team to one shot on goal, but they capitalized on our mistakes,” said OSU coach John Markell. “Their best players beat us tonight.”
At the 7:12 mark of the third period, Kennedy broke a 1-1 tie with a nifty breakaway goal. Senior assistant captain Tyler Howells, who set up two goals on the evening with great rushes, hit Kennedy right up the gut for the breakaway.
“I was scared when I got the pass from Howells because I had my head down and usually when you’re skating through the middle with your head down you’re going to get hammered, but I looked up and the defense wasn’t there and I had a free lane,” said Kennedy.
The sophomore forward dipped his shoulder, flipped to the backhand, and pulled the puck back to his forehand and tucked it between OSU goalie Joe Palmer and the left post.
“I use that move a lot and Coach gets mad because it’s about 6-for-18 right now, so I’m glad it worked because I would have heard it when I came back to the bench,” Kennedy said.
Five minutes later, Mueller put the game away with his second goal of the night.
“I was in the box and I was supposed to go to the bench, but the puck was in our zone, so I went back to help out. Howells broke the puck out and hit Kennedy in the slot, who is the best passer on our team and one of the best in the nation. He hit me backdoor and I just had to tap it in,” said Mueller.
As the game wound down, OSU pulled Palmer with 34 seconds remaining for a 6-on-4 advantage, but Kennedy picked up a loose puck and sent it the length of the ice for his second score of the night.
The Spartans held the Buckeyes to a single goal in large part because they limited their power-play opportunities and their chances when they actually had the man-advantage.
“Our power play didn’t work when we needed it to. We got it set up, but we didn’t execute when we needed it to get back into the game,” said Markell. “It comes down to your power play. You need to execute at the right times in order to beat good teams in their building.”
MSU’s penalty kill, while successful, had quite a different look Friday, featuring players like Kurt Kivisto and Brandon Warner, who have had limited roles in the past for the Spartans.
“I was very happy tonight because we used some new players killing penalties tonight. We got more in the game and kept our better players fresh for five-on-five,” said Comley.
Not only did the new players provide spells to keep Mueller and Kennedy ripe for goalscoring, but they also did a sound job getting in shooting lanes and blocking shots.
“They blocked a tremendous amount of shots and that’s something we’ll have to look at,” said Markell. “They pack it in — that’s the new NHL style — and everybody’s blocking shots. We need to find a way to get shots through.”
“On their power play they like to shoot it from the outside. Their leading scorer is a defenseman and those two guys, (Jason) DeSantis and (Sean) Collins, are very good players, so our strategy is to keep the puck high and stay tight,” said Comley.
MSU nearly escaped the first period unscathed, but Buckeye forward Mathieu Beaudoin carried up the left side with 15 seconds left in the period, fired a hard, low shot on Jeff Lerg, and slid his own rebound into the back of the net with just 10 ticks left on the clock.
The Spartans came out energized early in the second period, gaining a short five-on-three advantage, but failed to capitalize on their opportunities.
Shortly following the power play, both Bryan Lerg and Chris Mueller generated solid scoring chances, but neither could get that lucky bounce. Lerg’s shot hit Palmer, flipped up over the keeper’s shoulder and clipped the crossbar, but trickled over the net. Mueller then fired the puck over the top of a near-empty net.
Looking toward Saturday’s game, Markell demanded a more consistent effort from his team, especially his top scoring threats.
“We had a line off tonight. We need to have all four lines going. … [Domenic] Maiani’s line was off for us and they have to create. They are our best offensive players, so they have to create for us. You have to be prepared to come into a building like this and everyone has to be prepared, not just 17 or 18 guys,” said Markell.
The Buckeyes will have an opportunity for some revenge Saturday, as these two teams will face off at 7:05 p.m.
After dropping a 2-0 decision at Wisconsin in the College Hockey Showcase last Saturday, the Spartans avoided being shut out in back-to-back games in a single season for the first time in their illustrious history.
The game marked Tommy Goebel’s first game back at Munn Arena since transferring to the Buckeyes. Goebel, who has struggled to recapture the scoring touch from a freshman campaign in which he tallied 32 points and was the Spartans’ third-leading scorer, finished the night with one shot on goal and a minus-two rating.
With three points Friday, Tim Kennedy increased his point total to 18 through 14 games — just one point away from his 29-game season total from last year. Also, for those fans of YouTube out there, you may want to search for Kennedy’s coast-to-coast goal against Michigan — it’s this writer’s nomination for goal of the year