Saturday night in Value City Arena, the story could be told this simply – Michigan State has one of the best power-play quarterbacks in the country, and the Buckeyes do not.
Michigan State captain Torey Krug set up two man-advantage goals while Ohio State's power-play unit went 0 for 8, and the end result was a 3-2 win for the Spartans in front of 6,019 in Value City Arena that moved OSU to 0-6-4 in its last 10 games.
"I think he's an all-league player," Ohio State head coach Mark Osiecki said of Krug. "You have to have to have that defenseman that can quarterback. From a power-play standpoint, he's top-shelf. He's a high-end player. No doubt about it. Hats off to him."
For the second night in a row, there was a lot to like for Ohio State, but too many mistakes against a veteran team proved to be the difference. Michigan State dressed seven seniors and only three freshmen, while the Buckeyes had three seniors and 10 first-year players in the lineup.
In addition, Osiecki acknowledged senior Danny Dries, the Buckeyes' second-leading scorer, faces an indefinite suspension for a violation of team rules.
That experience was shown in the last period, as Michigan State was outshot 12-4 while holding a 3-2 lead but kept most of the shots to the outside and protected goaltender Will Yanakeff while grinding out the sweep-clinching victory.
"It seems like we couldn't really get too much going," said OSU freshman Tanner Fritz, who had both Buckeye goals. "They were pretty poised with the puck, but as freshmen we need to start playing like sophomores. We've had a lot of opportunities throughout the year, and hopefully in this last stretch we can come together and get some wins here."
Ohio State (14-10-5, 10-9-5-1) is now tied for fourth in the CCHA with Miami and Notre Dame, but that trio is only one point ahead of the two-way, seventh-place tie between MSU and Lake Superior State. OSU also has an open date left in the schedule.
With the winless streak building, the Buckeyes needed desperate effort from the very beginning, but Michigan State (15-11-4, 10-9-3-2) built a 3-0 lead that proved too much to overcome.
"There has to be a sense of desperation," co-captain Sean Duddy said. "We didn't do a good enough job for 60 minutes of playing desperate hockey tonight. We know what we have in the locker room. We know what we're capable of. There will be stretches where we outplay teams for a good part of the game, but it's just about mental toughness, having consistency the whole game."
Krug started pulling the strings on things early, setting up a power-play goal at 9:14 of the first period that gave the Spartans a 1-0 lead. Michigan State won a draw back to him at the center point, where Krug faked a shot to freeze OSU goaltender Cal Heeter before feeding Matt Berry behind Heeter at the right post for an easy tap-in.
Ohio State contended the faceoff never should have happened because Heeter was not set, but those complaints fell on deaf ears.
"The ref is screaming, ‘Don't drop the puck! Not ready!' " Osiecki said. "If you watch the video, Cal is looking at the net. He has his water bottle. He's looking the wrong way. The puck drops, clearly it goes right off the referee's skate right to their player – pass, goal. You talk about bounces. That one is tough."
Michigan State doubled the lead just 1:57 into the second. With the teams skating 4-on-4 after Alex Lippincott took an offensive zone penalty to end an OSU power play, Jake Chelios took a loose puck in the high slot and fired past Heeter.
The score became 3-0 at 13:25 of the third on Krug's eighth goal of the year. He and Garrett Wolfe played patty-cake at the blue line on the power play before Krug simply sent a rocket from the right point that went in long and high.
But just when it looked like Ohio State was out of gas, the Buckeyes responded on the strength of the red-hot line of Fritz and fellow freshmen Max McCormick and Ryan Dzingel. Fritz got the Buckeyes on the board at 14:23 of the second, driving the net and putting in the rebound of a shot by McCormick that sent hundreds of teddy bears – and one rather large "Beat Blue" banana – to the ice as part of the Teddy Bear Toss promotion.
Ohio State made it 3-2 then at 17:49 as Fritz finished a 2-on-1 by tapping the rebound of Dzingel's shot past Yanakeff.
"(We had) a couple of good shifts there together and then we got one and came over to the bench and it had a little more energy," Fritz said. "Then we just got the second one and I thought that was going to be the turning point in the game, but unfortunately it wasn't."
It didn't help that the Buckeyes were without Dzingel, the squad's third-leading scorer entering the game, for 10 minutes in the third after he took a misconduct for mouthing off to a referee.
Ohio State's best chances came when Nick Oddo whiffed on a cross-crease feed from Fritz on the power play five minutes into the third and with four minutes left when Yanakeff parried away Lippincott's shot from the slot after the OSU sophomore corralled a loose puck.
Ohio State finished the series 0 for 14 on the power play with 24 shots on goal in that span. … Brett Perlini and Greg Wolfe had two assists apiece for MSU while Yanakeff made 33 saves. … Heeter had 22 stops. … Fritz has four goals and nine points in the last six games, while McCormick had multiple points for the third game in a row.