In order for No. 13 Ohio State (17-9-6, 8-7-1-1) to sweep Michigan State (6-21-3, 2-12-2-0) in the final home series of the 2016-17 season, the Buckeyes must clean up the turnover issues that plagued them last weekend.
Coming off a tough 1-0 loss to Michigan on Feb. 25, the Buckeyes know they must protect the puck within the neutral and defensive zones. The Wolverines’ winning goal came from a defensive zone turnover by senior David Gust that went directly to Michigan forward Niko Porikos. Porikos ripped a shot towards the goal and it was tipped in by forward Nick Pastujov.
The Buckeyes took this example as a lesson to build upon and fix in practice prior to this weekend. OSU coach Steve Rohlik understands how these crucial lapses in play can hurt the team, but envisions the flaws as capable of fixing.
“Our guys have to know better than to just throw pucks away,” he said. “We had a few guys with nobody even on them, and they threw the puck away. That’s something that we can control, which is good.”
The topic was not limited to the defensemen this week. There was a heavy amount of focus on the forwards and their ability to provide better support to get the puck out of vulnerable areas. Senior forward Nick Schilkey reiterated that it was a big focus in this week’s preparation.
“(Back-checking has) been a big focus of ours — getting back as forwards to help the defense and making sure we’re all in the same frame,” Schilkey said.
Schilkey explained what he and the fellow forwards are looking for on video to improve their contributions to the efforts.
“We’re making sure that we aren’t getting too stretched out,” he said. “I think that’ll make it easier on the defense. I think that’s where we’re going to get better.”
Looking towards this weekend’s battle with the Spartans, it’s imperative the Buckeyes improve their play in the two zones and get the much-needed sweep nearing the postseason. The team has little room to falter as OSU sits on the edge of an NCAA at-large tournament berth.
When facing a team like Michigan State, who has struggled all season, OSU hopes to play with fire from the beginning of the game and not turn it on when the team has to. A few weeks ago, the Buckeyes struggled to come out firing in both games in East Lansing, Michigan, and had to hold onto one-goal wins. With some familiarity of the opponent, there is confidence that the team will know ways to attack the Spartans’ weaknesses and get the early leads.
“If you limit your turnovers, you’re going to limit chances against and that’s what we have to do,” Rohlik said.
Puck drop for the games are set for 7 p.m. Friday and 8 p.m. Saturday.