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Gophers Hockey: Postgame thoughts from Minnesota's 4-2 loss

Some A bunch of bonus content from Friday's game between the Gophers and Michigan State at Mariucci Arena.

Kyle Rau (7) continued his scoring this season, but was the only Gopher to do so.
Kyle Rau (7) continued his scoring this season, but was the only Gopher to do so.
Matt Christians

Don Lucia's chance to pass Doug Woog will have to wait another weekend.

The Gophers head coach got his 390th win at Minnesota a night earlier to be in position to become the school's all-time winningiest men's hockey coach, but on Friday Michigan State was able to keep the home team at bay and always chasing; both on the scoreboard and on the ice in a 4-2 win. Lucia (and Minnesota's) next chance to win a game will be Friday March 6th on the road against Ohio State.

"It would have been cool. It would have been a great honor for him to do it in front of the home fans," said Kyle Rau.

Minnesota dropped to 13th as of the time of this writing in the Pairwise rankings, which mimic the selection criteria the NCAA uses for at-large bids and seeding in the NCAA Tournament. Bubble territory. With four games remaining before the Big Ten tournament, every game becomes more important both for the tournament and Big Ten standings.

"Every game is important. We're down to - it's March," said Lucia. "As you move forward, (Michigan State is) a good team. They're playing good hockey right now. I give them a lot of credit. They lost Walsh, who is a key defender for them, and they came in here and played a good game."

Michigan State is treating Walsh as if he will out for the year with a busted jaw.

The loss means Michigan can take over first place with a win today. Penn State's loss Friday takes the Nittany Lions out of a chance to leapfrog the Gophers this weekend.

Check out the game recap here (or in the box link - I'm not picky. Both lead to the same story). Here are a couple more thoughts from Friday's game that didn't fit.

1. Johnny Draegs shows up at home

Michigan State junior John Draeger is not a goal scorer. He won't be confused for one anytime soon. In fact I wrote a story last year (unfortunately not online) about the Spartans defenseman and 2012 Minnesota Wild draft pick - a Fairbault, MN native and former Shattuck's player -  being easy to overlook in the Wild prospect pool because he plays so well as a defensive defenseman.

"I try to be a big, physical guy who keeps it simple, moves the puck," was how Draeger described himself on the ice. "I'm not super offensive, but I'll move up in the play when I get the opportunity. The main part of my game is being defensively sound and getting the puck up to the forwards."

That was not anywhere near what happened Friday.

Draeger got Michigan State's opening goal with a move that left  head coach Tom Anastos smiling when asked about it after the game. In the opening minute of the second period he skated down in front of the net, took a a Rhett Holland pass, spun around and put the backhand shot in for the first goal of the game.

Here's a Vine of the goal taken by Jashvina Shah.

"Oh was like a root canal finally coming to fruition,"  Anaastos said. "It's nice - especially at home. It's his home state, he's a Minnesota Wild draft pick. He works his tail off every single day and it was really nice to see him get rewarded."

Draeger has battled injuries throughout his college career, missing chunks to begin both his sophomore and junior years. He seems to be healthy now. The Wild draft pick, listed at 6'1", 185 lbs, was his normal defensive D self throughout the weekend. However, he seemed more willing to get into the play and shoot the puck both on Nick Lehr and Adam Wilcox.

The goal was only his second in three years at Michigan State with the other happening in his sixth collegiate game on October 27, 2012.

According to Draeger, he had 15 family and friends watching him at Mariucci Arena when Michigan State came to town in 2014. If that was the case this time around then 15 people got a show early in the second period.

2. Michigan State was able to shut down Minnesota's playmakers defensively and unleash some themselves

(Warning: Fancy stats)

The night before, Anastos told SB Nation College Hockey that Minnesota's success on the power play, where it went 2 for 4, comes from "having a lot of playmakers that move the puck and can finish."

That's normally the case for a team that normally is able to control the play and out-shoot and out-chance opponents. Lucia's team did so even on the road against high-shooting Penn State last weekend. Throughout the year, Minnesota has 54.54 percent team 5x5 Corsi (all shot attempts at even strength compared with the opponent's).

The Gophers didn't have many chances to utilize its nation-leading power play Friday. Even more, Michigan State shut down Minnesota's playmakers at even-strength en route to winning. It helped that MSU was able to score first once again - a position where the Spartans have only lost twice this season (including Thursday) - yet the Gophers played from behind when the score was 0-0.

Winning 13 of 19 face-offs in the first period, Michigan State was able to hold possession against the second-best face-off team in the nation and allowed only 3 shots on goal in the final 16 minutes. Anastos' team out-chanced the Gophers 29-12. MSU was able to out-chance 66-55 with 27 of the 55 given up in the second period.

In the third period holding a one or two goal lead, the Spartans held Minnesota to 3 shots on goal in first 15 minutes.

Credit to Michigan State for coming back a night after giving up 5 consecutive goals and letting the home team control play in the Spartans zone. (Total shot attempts were 69-54 Gophers and Grade As were even more lopsided.) Defensively, Michigan State played as a five man unit that chased and moved together like a "halo." It collapsed when it needed to and kept the Gophers on the perimeter of the Mariucci Arena ice.

Fancy stats-wise, Rau's power play goal was the only Grade A chance Minnesota had in the third period when it needed to come back. No one was close. 8 of the 13 even strength attempts came from Minnesota defensemen and all but one were from the point. Most alarming is that the Gophers' second line of Sam Warning-Travis Boyd-Seth Ambroz did not have a single attempt.

Small sample size or not, that line has been Minnesota's most consistent. The trio had 16 even-strength attempts Thursday and just 3 Friday.

Yet for Anastos, the source of shutting down Minnesota's playmakers had more to do than just the defense. It's much easier to have good defense when your offense has the puck.

"I thought we were better offensively tonight and that's what led to better defense," he said. "I thought our forecheck was way better, we had way more offensive zone possession time. I really liked how we entered the zone with possession (Friday).

"So I thought we were better in our defensive zone when we were there, but I thought we spent way more time in the offensive zone, which was key to our defense."

3. Wilcox tested after a night off

For the record, Wilcox looked fine in his return to the net. He did give up 4 goals, but was tested heavily by Michigan State's offense and had a couple big saves to keep the game close until the end. Most notably was keeping the game scoreless in the first period when Michigan State had a 14-3 run on shots on goal and controlled possession.

The last two games reinforced the importance of goaltending in the Big Ten with both Minnesota keepers and Michigan State's Jake Hildebrand. The MSU goalie, one of the more underrated players in the conference, continues to be a constant presence in net. Only Kyle Rau was able to beat him Friday.

HM: There weren't many penalties Friday. The two Minnesota had were similar yet very different. Seth Ambroz was called for roughing after coming to the aid of Travis Boyd when his senior linemate was badly hit after the whistle by Matt Berry. (Berry was called for that as was MSU's Matt DeBlouw for roughing in the ensuing scrum.)

Hudson Fasching's judo toss in the final two minutes was also technically roughing. It was away from the play, put the Gophers down a man and ended any chance of the Gophers to get the tying goal. More than anything, the play symbolized the frustration Minnesota had Friday. Plenty of turnovers, giveaways and decisions that are going to be second-guessed.

Then again, between Fasching making Ronda Rousey proud and Brady Skjei's ability to escape a rear-naked choke against Wisconsin the Gophers may be the best MMA hockey club in all of college hockey.


Nathan Wells is a college hockey columnist for SB Nation mostly covering both the University of Minnesota and Big Ten. You can also follow him on Twitter --