Thursday, November 12, 2015

Michigan State Preview

For the first time since 1996, Boston College will host the school that handed the program perhaps it's most crushing loss, the Michigan State Spartans. It's impossible to discuss the history between these storied teams without mentioning MSU's 3-1 win in the 2007 National Championship in which they scored the go ahead goal with under thirty seconds remaining. On second thought, let's move on. That was an absolute killer.

Since that dreadful game, Michigan State has dropped off the upper echelon of college hockey but after hiring former CCHA commissioner Tom Anastos in 2012, they're looking to get back to being a perennial power. Sparty has only made the NCAA tournament twice since that 2007 title game (2008 and 2012). Anastos' team struggled a bit out of the gate with losses at Denver (x2) and Lake Superior State but they appear to have righted the ship with a sweep over New Hampshire last weekend. MSU's biggest attribute is senior goaltender Jake Hildebrand, one of the top goaltenders in college hockey. Hildebrand has started all eight games for Sparty so far this season, averaging 2.12 goals against per game and a .912 save percentage. Offense has been Michigan State's kryptonite over the past three seasons as they are averaging just 3.12 goals per game this season which comes on the heals of 2.42 goals per game effort last year. They pride themselves on their defensive zone play, evident by a 2.38 goals against rate. The good news is that BC has faced a couple of teams that play a similar style to MSU already this season. Opponents such as RPI and Maine had different levels of success against the maroon and gold by blocking shots, preventing odd man rushes, and doing a stellar job of killing penalties. Expect an identical game plan from the green and white tomorrow.

As for BC, they got a bit of good news today as senior captain Teddy Doherty appears to be ready for tomorrow's game, despite suffering a slight shoulder separation last Friday. Doherty spent much of the week practicing in a no contact uniform but was a full go today. His absence on Sunday was most obvious on the power play where the Eagles failed to get much of anything going until Miles Wood's rebound goal midway through the third period. The bad news for the Eagles is that their opponent does not spend much time in the sin bin. Michigan State averages just 9.25 penalty minutes per game, good for 43rd in the country. I don't think we will see any personnel changes on either unit. As I've said all year long, I'm not worried about the power play because when you have that type of skill, it is not as difficult to manufacture scoring opportunities. I will be interested to see if they go with a set first unit because each of the national title squad has featured one group that was given the majority of the playing time and as a result, generated a higher percentage of the team's power play goals. Last season, they only had one unit to work with so once they were gassed, the third and fourth lines were left out to dry vs opponents' top guns. They could have the luxury of going with an all powerful "top" unit before deploying the third and fourth lines immediately after the penalty expired. The five forward system worked well in 2011 and there is arguably more skill on this team so I wonder if they will leave that door open?

At the end of the day, there aren't any issues to discuss when it comes to this BC team. With that being said, I fully expect Michigan State to come in here and play an excellent hockey game. They haven't been to the tournament in three seasons and for a program like MSU, that is too long. A win at BC would be a huge pairwise boost for their club. They're going to play physical, they're going to block shots, and they're going to get top notch goaltending. Hopefully BC is ready to respond right off the bat.

Scouting Michigan State- 

Record- 4-3-1

Leading scorers- JT Stenglien (5-5-10), Mackenzie MacEachern (4-5-9), Joe Cox (3-3-6)

Team offense- 3.12 goals scored per game (T-23rd)

Team defense- 2.38 goals allowed per game (16th)

Power play- 15.6% (36th)

Penalty kill- 90.6% (8th)

Shots on goal per game- 32 shots per game (19th)

Keys for BC-

1. Stay out of the box!!!! When they play 5 on 5 hockey they're the best team in the country.

2. No turnovers at the offense blue line. Michigan State is going to try and block everything they can. If and when that happens, BC needs to be ready to counter through the neutral zone.

3. Hopefully they can get the Sanford, Tuch, and Gilmour line going. I actually thought they played well last weekend in their own end (blocked a ton of shots) but BC needs them to score.

Notes- Doherty should be a go. Silk still out.

Go Eagles !

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