Heading into this weekend, it had been nearly 11 years since Michigan State had beaten Miami in East Lansing.
The Spartans’ Jeremy Davidson scored twice, including the game winner with 3:56 left, as MSU ended its home win drought vs. the RedHawks with a 3-1 victory at Munn Ice Arena on Friday.
The teams had moved into different conferences in 2013, and this was their first meeting since. Although Michigan State leads the all-time series by a 2-to-1 margin, Miami had gone 8-1-1 in its last 10 meetings with the Spartans.
MSU’s last home win over Miami was Jan. 21, 2011, and the RedHawks had not been held to one goal on the Spartans’ home ice since early 2006.
The RedHawks (1-2) have dropped back-to-back games since winning their season opener at Ferris State. These teams wrap up their weekend series at 7 p.m. on Saturday.
RECAP: Michigan State (2-1) opened the scoring on the power play 8:16 into the first period when Dennis Cesana fired a shot from the blue line that pinballed to Mitchell Lewandowski in the slot, and he quickly slid a lateral pass to Davidson in the center of the faceoff circle for a one-time blast that neat Miami goalie Ludvig Persson.
The RedHawks tied it with 8:24 left in the middle frame when P.J. Fletcher played a puck ahead to Joey Cassetti at the blue line, and Cassetti drove the net and shoveled the puck through the legs of MSU goalie Pierce Charleson.
But the Spartans took the lead for good at the 16:06 mark of the final stanza when Kristof Papp intercepted a pass inside the left faceoff circle and threw a pass across the slot to Cesana, who carried it around the net and found Davidson wide open the slot for a slam-dunk goal.
Jagger Joshua capped the scoring with an empty netter in the final minute.
STATS: Cassetti’s goal was his second of the season and the fourth of his career.
Fletcher and Thomas Daskas, both first-year RedHawks via transfer, picked up the assists. Fletcher has two points in his last two games and Daskas picked up his third helper to lead the team.
Daskas is also the only Miami skater with points in all three games.
— Persson stopped 25 shots in the loss.
— Miami finished with 29 shots to Michigan State’s 28, snapping a nine-game string of being outshot.
THOUGHTS: Miami just didn’t do enough to win this game. A few issues:
— Offensively, the RedHawks didn’t generate enough quality chances or convert on the ones they had.
The fourth line that featured Monte Graham and Jack Olmstead was the team’s best early on and the other three were AWOL too often.
— Way too many defensive-zone turnovers.
And we’re talking easy-out plays, not 1-on-3, pinned in the corner with no out, hand over your wallet giveaways.
— The power play overall was subpar. It had a couple of moments, but there wasn’t that sustained pressure a quality first and second unit can establish.
The puck movement and chemistry among the top unit especially was excellent in Game 1 in Ferris State. Miami is 0-for-9 since with a shorthanded goal against.
— The power play goal was a bit unlucky, with a carom finding an open forward for a quick pass and snipe, but the go-ahead goal was on yet another defensive-zone turnover, with centering a pass through the middle and Daskas was unable to handle it.
Then after Cesena skated behind the net, Davidson established social distancing protocols in the slot and rammed home a point-blank one-timer.
— That’s three non empty-net goals against in the final four minutes plus overtime in the last two games.
— Was watching on a computer monitor, but it looked like the ice played a major role in the poor passing and turnovers.
A quick check of the humidity in East Lansing had it at 96 percent, plus a sold-out crowd of 6,500 had to raise the temperature at the rink.
Now some positives…
— Persson has been excellent for five consecutive periods.
He struggled in the first period in Big Rapids but was 25 of 27 in this game and had no chance on the two in-close one-time goals he allowed.
It seems like he is overcommitting a little at times, a la Jay Williams early in his career when his adrenaline was pulsing through him, but overall he played an excellent game, keeping Miami in it.
— Really enjoy seeing Cassetti have early success.
He scored twice in his Miami debut last season after having to sit out early on because of transfer rules, then he got hurt and was never the same.
Cassetti drove the net while being well defended and was able to put one through a hot goaltender. That’s his second goal in three games this season, and he has dished out some major-league hits already in 2021-22.
— Hampus Rydqvist and Jack Clement, who took a step up two weeks ago at Ferris State, continued to impress on defense and make their case for significant ice time on an incredibly competitive corps of 11.
LINEUP CHANGES: Coach Chris Bergeron made at forward and one on defense.
Forward Olmstead returned to the fourth line after sitting Game 2, replacing John Sladic. Olmstead finished with four shots.
On defense, Alec Capstick made his 2021-22 debut as Andrew Sinard was scratched after playing both games in Big Rapids.
Capstick went plus-1 with a shot on goal.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Saturday is only Game 4 of a 34-game regular season, but after suffering back-to-back losses, it becomes very important for Miami, which is preparing for its annual NCHC gauntlet starting at Baxter Arena in three weeks.
It would be very concerning if the RedHawks can’t even tread water against an FSU and Michigan State team that finished a combined 8-41-3 last season.
There have definitely been positive signs this team is advancing the ball, with improved defensive play from both forwards and defensemen and proven scoring threats up front finding the net. Persson appears to be back to his first-half-of-last-season form, when he was dominant.
And progress is great and will no doubt play key role in this team’s future success.
But in the short-term, at some point the process needs to translate into the win column. For that reason, Miami needs to end this string of four straight road games to open the season with a win and return to .500.
If the RedHawks are unable to compete during the easiest portion of their schedule, they have no chance of climbing out of NCHC’s bottom tier this season.