The No. 5 Michigan Wolverines (18-9-1) are riding a season-best five-game win streak entering another rivalry weekend against No. 15 Michigan State (15-13-2). Michigan and MSU are two of the four teams — Ohio State and Penn State being the other two — battling for the No. 2 seed in the Big Ten Conference Tournament. Aside from that, everything is on the line for the Spartans down the stretch.
Being on the fringes of the Pairwise rankings, Michigan State cannot afford to finish any game with zero points. Michigan State has already enjoyed a tremendous turnaround under first-year head coach Adam Nightingale, who inherited a 12-23-1 program, but the Spartans are not getting complacent.
Last weekend, Michigan State took care of business by sweeping Notre Dame and earning a critical six points to keep pace in the standings. Now the Spartans turn their fight to Michigan with their season potentially on the line. Conversely, the Wolverines will look to stay hot and eliminate their rival in the process.
In their first two meetings in December, the rivals split the pair of games with each victory resulting in a gritty 2-1 final score. The Spartans are fueled offensively by Jagger Joshua (12G, 9A, 21 PTS) who leads the team in goal-scoring, with the talented freshmen duo of Karsen Dorwart (9G, 16A, 25 PTS) and Daniel Russell (8G, 16A, 24 PTS) right behind him.
On the blue line, Cole Krygier and Matt Basgall have contributed 14 and 13 points, respectively, but the strength of this unit is blocking shots. Basgall leads the team with 45 blocked shots, and four other Spartans have blocked 27 or more this season. This concerted effort to block shots is all a part of the plan to ease the burden on star goaltender Dylan St. Cyr.
While only posting a 14-13-2 record, St. Cyr has been stalwart between the pipes. His .917 save percentage and 851 saves are both second in the Big Ten, and the veteran has also accrued three shutouts this season. In their first meeting, St. Cyr posted a .940 save percentage against the Wolverines, who struggled to figure him out. The Spartans will need a similar performance this weekend if they want to remain alive for the postseason.
KEYS TO THE GAME
- Make St. Cyr uncomfortable. Michigan needs to keep a primary screener in front of St. Cyr as much as possible. Dylan Duke has been Michigan’s net-front grinder all season and if the Wolverines win this weekend, you can be assured it will be in large part due to the efforts of Duker. Furthermore, with a constant screener, Michigan needs to win the shots battle. The Wolverines were outshot in both contests in December and if this win streak is to continue, Michigan needs a minimum of 25 shots on net each night.
- Long forechecks. This key ties into the first — in order to generate more shots on goal, Michigan needs to LEAN on the Spartans with a prolonged zone presence. Doing so will wear down Michigan State’s average defensemen and multiply the pressure on the Spartans’ netminder.
- No cheap mistakes. In Michigan’s loss to the Spartans, the Wolverines allowed a cheap, easy short-handed goal from the left point. The goal, which tied the game, provided the Spartans with some much needed momentum en route to winning the game. Michigan State is an opportunistic team and will make opponents pay for sloppy mistakes or lethargic shifts. If the Wolverines don’t offer any self-destructive assistance, Michigan State will struggle in the offensive zone.
- Feed Fantilli. One key piece missing for Michigan the first time they played Michigan State was Hobey Baker hopeful Adam Fantilli, who currently leads the nation with 1.88 points per game. Fantilli’s presence and chemistry with his new top linemates (Rutger McGroarty, Gavin Brindley) should be the spark Michigan needs to extended its winning streak to seven games this weekend.
WHEN: Friday, Feb. 10, 7 p.m. / Saturday, Feb. 11, 8 p.m.
WHERE: East Lansing, MI; Munn Ice Arena / Detroit, MI; Little Caesars Arena
HOW TO WATCH: Friday, Bally Sports Detroit+ or BIG+ / Saturday, ESPNU or TSN2
HOW TO LISTEN: Varsity Podcast Network