Michigan State’s top line overwhelms Wisconsin men’s hockey team
EAST LANSING, Mich. — There were plaudits being dished out from University of Wisconsin players outside their Munn Ice Arena locker room Friday night.
Unfortunately for the Badgers, they were in reference to the other team’s best players.
Michigan State’s top line centered by Patrick Khodorenko was a force in a 4-1 victory that left UW with a 2-9-2 record on Fridays this season.
Khodorenko scored the first two goals for the Spartans, and linemates Mitchell Lewandowski and Taro Hirose did the rest of the damage in an impressive outing for Michigan State’s featured trio.
“In my opinion, it might be one of the hardest lines to play against in the Big Ten,” Badgers goaltender Daniel Lebedeff said. “Today, we saw it. They scored all four of their goals.”
A combined eight points between the members of the so-called “KHL Line” gave them 106 for the season. Hirose leads the country with 45 points.
“You look at their ability to make plays,” said UW center Dominick Mersch, whose line was twice victimized by Khodorenko finishes. “They’re all very high skilled players.”
Said UW captain Peter Tischke: “They’re just moving the puck really well, always know where each other are.”
As for the Badgers, coach Tony Granato offered a simple assessment after his team fell to 1-5-1 in 2019 and 2-7-3 away from home this season.
“We didn’t play well,” he said. “Just didn’t get the jump. Got eaten up by that line that we knew would be ready to play, and we didn’t handle them very well.”
The Spartans (10-13-4, 6-8-3-2 Big Ten) pulled ahead of the Badgers (9-12-4, 5-6-4-1) in the conference standings, leaving UW and Penn State tied for the bottom two spots.
A malaise ran through all parts of the game for the Badgers on Friday, with special teams again being a negative factor.
Lewandowski’s second-period goal to put the Spartans ahead 3-0 came on the power play. Standing in front of the crease, he redirected Hirose’s pass into the top corner of the net.
It was the 10th power-play goal allowed by the Badgers in a span of 15 opportunities over five games. UW has the second-worst penalty-killing percentage in the country (71 percent).
UW also went 0-for-3 with the man advantage, generating just three shots on goal over those six minutes with an extra skater. The Badgers are 0-for-11 on the power play in a season-long four-game drought.
The Badgers aren’t doing enough to generate quality chances on the power play, Granato conceded.
“We need to get a big power-play goal when the game’s on the line soon,” he said. “That’s when you know how your power play is going well: When the game’s on the line, you score.”
That opportunity presented itself late in the second periody, but UW was unable to make Michigan State pay.
Ty Emberson cut the Badgers’ deficit to 3-1 with 1:33 remaining in the middle frame when he knocked in the second rebound of a K’Andre Miller shot. Lewandowski was called for unsportsmanlike conduct in the aftermath.
UW attempted only two shots and made Spartans goalie Drew DeRidder (27 saves) make only one save on the power play.
Khodorenko scored a 4-on-4 goal with 2:45 left in a fast-paced first period to break a scoreless tie. The Badgers couldn’t move the puck out of the right circle, and Khodorenko found room between Lebedeff (28 saves) and the right post with a backhand shot.
“They’re seeing the play and they’re having the confidence to make the play,” Spartans coach Danton Cole said of Khodorenko’s line. “And those decisions are made even before the puck is on their stick.”
Khodorenko doubled the advantage in the second period after great passes from Hirose and Lewandowski left him free in the slot.
“They made a great play on the entry,” Mersch said. “I have to identify that guy coming in. That’s my job there. They were able to make a play and he shot it. I’ve got to be able to find that guy and take him away.”
The Badgers held the Spartans’ top line — and the rest of the team — down when they earned a 3-0 shutout in the most recent game between the teams on Dec. 8 at the Kohl Center.
Granato said UW overcomplicated things on Friday and didn’t make Khodorenko’s line, which added an empty-net goal by Hirose, play enough in its own zone.
“You’ve got to play better than that against that line,” he said. “They could have had seven or eight.”
Wisconsin 0 1 0 — 1
Michigan State 1 2 1 — 4
First period: M — Khodorenko 15 (Rosburg, Cesana), 17:15. Penalties: Miller, M, 9:32; Hirose, M, 15:18; Inamoto, W, 15:18; Apap, M, 19:58.
Second period: M — Khodorenko 16 (Hirose, Lewandowski), 5:19; Lewandowski 12 (Hirose, Cesana), 9:50 (pp). W — Emberson 3 (Miller, Mersch), 18:27. Penalties: Mersch, W, 9:00; Gorniak, W, 13:13; Lewandowski, M, 18:27.
Third period: M — Hirose 14 (Khodorenko), 18:51 (en). Penalties: Inamoto, W, 9:02; Mersch, W, 12:56.
Saves: W (Lebedeff 9-5-14) 28; M (DeRidder 7-10-10) 27. Power plays: W 0-for-3; M 1-for-4. Att. — 5,313.