Who: Michigan vs Michigan State
Where: Friday at Munn Ice Arena, Saturday at Yost Ice Arena
When: Friday: 6:30. Saturday: 7:05
It is now year five of the Tom Anastos era and it's been a rocky first half.
The Spartans are not a very good team. Since a November 7th win over New Hampshire, MSU has one win and it came against Wisconsin which has put them at 53rd in the RPI rankings out of 60 teams.
Offensively the grinding, cycle style attack that Anastos employs has averaged 2.50 goals per game this season. Mackenzie MacEachern has taken a giant leap forward and leads the team with eight goals while JT Stenglein and Joe Cox have also stepped up into goal scoring roles. Three other forwards have chipped in four goals each and Mason Appleton has been a nice surprise for them scoring three goals and notching twelve assists.
Unfortunately their shortcomings at forward have overshadowed what an outstanding job Anastos has done with his blueline. Their style of clogging the neutral zone and collapsing around the net to block shots isn't common but it has worked and can be very frustrating to play against.
This season, however, Anastos has his work cut out for him. MSU lost Josh Jacobs to the OHL, Brock Krygier transferred to Arizona State and RJ Boyd graduated. Later it was announced that freshman Jerad Rosburg would miss the season with a knee injury, leaving the Spartans with just six defensemen.
Their conservative style of play keeps the game simple for the goaltender but also gives him a heavier workload. In the past Jake Hildebrand has been spectacular, carrying the team on his back for the entire season but Hildebrand hasn't been his usual self this season posting a .903 sv% and a 3.00 goals against.
The Spartan penalty kill is among the best in the nation, ranking 8th and killing penalties at an 87% clip. Their power play is not so good converting on twelve of eighty chances. Of those twelve goals, eight of them have been scored by MacEachern and freshman defenseman Zach Osburn.
For the Wolverines
The Wolverines clawed their way to a GLI championship without Mike Downing and Zach Werenski but they'll have both back moving forward. Werenski looked like a superstar at World Juniors for Team USA and this could be the moment he turns the corner for the Wolverines.
Steve Racine was fantastic in the GLI and has earned the starting job in net. Now comes the next test: keeping the job.
Sam Piazza played great in the GLI. He should get minutes this weekend, we'll see if he can turn into a contributor for this team. They could really use it.
The Spartans play a boring, counter attacking style. They jam the neutral zone and wait for mistakes and it just so happens the Wolverines make quite a few mistakes themselves. Michigan needs to outlet quickly and use their speed to get up ice before the trap can be set up. Speed players like Boo Nieves, Kyle Connor and Brendan Warren should have this game circled on their calendars.