It was an interesting weekend in Big Ten hockey for many reasons, not the least of which is that there’s still a deadlock for first place Monday morning.
1. The Spartans capture the Iron D.
To be frank, the outcome of Friday’s game between Michigan State and Michigan in Joe Louis Arena is one of the most surprising things to have happened this season. It wasn’t that the Wolverines lost, nor even that the Spartans were the ones to beat them; the most surprising thing was Michigan State playing the kind of hockey it did early in the season, like a unified team in front of solid goaltending, a poised team that expected to win. That made for an amazing end-to-end game between two fierce rivals. That the Spartans came back late in the third was another surprise — and one that the Wolverines should learn from if they plan to return to the NCAA tournament and advance beyond a game.
Kudos to Michigan State forward senior Matt DeBlouw, whose goal at 3:29 in overtime gave the Spartans the the 3-2 win, and kudos to DeBlouw for scoring the game-winner against the Wolverines in Joe Louis Arena for the second consecutive year. It was nice to see Michigan State senior goaltender Jake Hildebrand look as though he’d returned to fine form, with 40 saves in the game.
2. Tyler Motte keeps scoring.
There’s no question that Michigan’s top line of Kyle Connor, JT Compher and Tyler Motte is the most prolific right now in college hockey. Motte had both goals in Michigan’s loss Friday and another Saturday in UM’s 4-1 win over the Spartans in East Lansing, extending Motte’s goal-scoring streak to nine games. Motte has 25 goals in 25 games this season, with 14 of them coming during this current streak. Motte, a junior, had nine goals in each of his two previous seasons (18 goals in 69 games) and he now leads the nation in goal-scoring. Connor, a freshman, leads the nation in scoring, period (20-24–44) and Compher (10-28–38) is sixth in the nation in scoring and third in assists.
3. No one gains any real ground.
Minnesota beat Penn State Friday, 4-1, doing pretty much the same thing the Spartans did — playing unified hockey with good defense. That gave the Gophers one day alone at the top of the Big Ten standings, because the Nittany Lions won 5-3 the following night and the Wolverines beat the Spartans. That makes the top of the standings and third place a complete wash. Only the Spartans improved their lot a very little, creeping to within three points of Ohio State. But the Buckeyes with their 12 points have two games in hand on the Spartans with their nine, and the last-place Badgers have six points and also have two games in hand over Michigan State.
One powerful lesson that should be taken from this weekend for two especially high-scoring teams is that all of that offense is relatively useless against a really, really solid defense. Seriously, if either the Wolverines or Nittany Lions could completely solidify their blue lines, they would be pretty close to unstoppable.