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Minnesota Hockey: Gophers at Michigan State Preview

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Can the Gophers make it two Big Ten road sweeps in a row?

The Gophers will look to get a couple more Big Ten road wins
gophersports.com

The Minnesota Golden Gophers hockey team will look to keep their Big Ten road hot streak alive when they play a rare Saturday/Sunday afternoon series against the Michigan State Spartans in East Lansing. Saturday’s game faces off at 4:30 CST, and Sunday’s will drop the puck at 4PM. Both games will air live on BTN.

What About the Gophers?

Minnesota comes into this weekend in second place in the Big Ten two points behind first place Ohio State. The Gophers are coming off of their first sweep of the season behind a great weekend in net from Big Ten First Star of the Week Mat Robson. Robson stopped 76 of 78 Notre Dame shots to propel the Gophers to a 5-1 win Friday and a 2-1 win on Saturday. Blake McLaughlin scored his first two goals as a Gopher—what ended up being the game winning goal both nights and was named the #2 Star of the week for his performance.

The Gophers have now won three conference games in a row and will look to extend that streak this weekend. Minnesota begins its second time through the Big Ten schools after going 6-3-3 in the first pair against each of the other six conference members. The Gophers split with the Spartans at Mariucci back in November with the Gophers winning 7-2 on Friday and losing 4-2 on Saturday. Senior Captain Tyler Sheehy had two goals in each game against the Spartans and will try and keep that streak alive this weekend. Mat Robson got the win on Friday and Eric Schierhorn took the loss on Saturday. Robson will start Saturday’s game this weekend and Sunday’s starter most likely will depend on Saturday’s result. The key for the Gophers will be getting to three goals in each of the games. When Minnesota scores three goals they are 7-1 on the season.

What About the Spartans?

Michigan State comes into the weekend in last place in the Big Ten with 13 points on the season, just two behind sixth place Notre Dame. The Spartans return home after earning a split at Penn State last weekend, losing 4-2 on Friday and winning 6-4 on Saturday. Michigan State is 3-7-2 this season in conference play with the wins coming over the Gophers, Nittany Lions, and in-state rival Michigan.

Offensively the Spartans have one of the most productive lines in the country. Junior Taro Hirose leads the nation in scoring with 35 points on the season. His line mates Patrick Khodorenko and Mitchell Lewandowski are no slouches either. Khodorenko has 24 points on the season and leads the Spartans with 13 goals while Lewandowski has 21 points on the season. But, the Spartans are very top heavy. Their scoring goes down significantly after their powerful top line. While the “KHL Line” has 31 goals on the season, the entire rest of the team only has 31. Stop that top line, and it shouldn’t been too much of a struggle.

The problem is stopping that KHL line. Khodorenko scored two goals with Lewandowski and Hirose each getting one a piece in the series in Minneapolis back in November. You can try, but you probably won’t succeed.

The Gophers should be able to outscore the Spartans though. Michigan State gives up 3.5 goals per game—which is greater than the magic number of three for Minnesota. Goalies Drew DeRidder and John Lethemon have split time this year for the Spartans. Both played a game against the Gophers in November with Lethemon getting yanked in the Friday night loss to Minnesota and DeRidder finishing the game and coming back to record the win on Saturday. The Spartans will need a good game from one or the other to keep the Gophers down once again.

Three Keys for Minnesota:

  1. Score three goals. It seems easy but it’s not. But if you can get to three, the chances are probable that good things are happening for Minnesota.
  2. Keep the KHL line off the board. Yeah I know, another likely impossible goal, but the less goals that line scores the greater the chance you win.
  3. Special Teams. Minnesota and Michigan State are virtually tied in power play percentage on the season at about 21%. But while the Gophers are the 9th best team in the nation on the penalty kill, the Spartans are an atrocious 57th out of 60 teams. They allow a power play goal on 1 out of every 4 attempts....so Minnesota needs to take advantage as many times as possible.

Just like last week a sweep is not a necessity...but its getting close. Minnesota can not afford to lose too many more games to teams below them in the pariwise to have any reasonable chance of making the NCAA Tournament without the Big Ten’s autobid. So do yourself a favor and get another sweep this weekend to help in all facets of the standings.

HOW TO WATCH:

Minnesota Golden Gophers @ Michigan State Spartans

Where: Munn Ice Arena, East Lansing, Michigan

When: 4:30 PM Saturday, 4PM Sunday

TV: BTN

Stream: BTN2GO

Radio: 1130 AM, 103.5 FM, I Heart Radio App