Penn State’s defense played great but the opposing team was better tonight. Michigan State goalie John Lethemon played one of the best games in net that has ever been turned in at the Pegula Ice Arena.
Lethemon set his career high with 48 saves, many of them extraordinary, to keep the high-scoring Lions off the board. Michigan State’s defense came with a solid game plan and executed it well enough for the win.
A goal by Patrick Khodorenko after a strange bounce off the boards was all that Michigan State needed to beat the sixth-ranked Lions at home. An empty net goal was added late in the game.
Peyton Jones stopped 23 of 24 shots that he faced, good for a .958 save percentage. He came into the game ranked 3rd in the country with a .947 average and he improved that number. The Lions played well as a team on defense, which has been an emphasis this season, and there were many chances to score, so there is no reason for concern.
The teams will play game two of the series at 6 p.m. on Saturday.
How It Happened
We have and will see many ways that teams will try to slow Penn State’s offense. Wisconsin hampered the Lions in the neutral zone, trying to slow the progress of setting up in the offensive zone. Michigan State chose to sag back into their defensive zone, leaving all five skaters in shooting lanes, blocking and deflecting as many shots as possible.
The teams got off to a slow start through the first six minutes with the game being interrupted by numerous whistles. The Lions led 3-1 in shots on goal but two of the shots were from the blue line by Cole Hults, neither team had a scoring chance.
Penn State started to ratchet up the pressure. On three consecutive shifts the home team got quality shots on goal by Nikita Pavlychev, Nate Sucese and then Brandon Biro. The crowd inside the Pegula Ice Arena came to life as a result but the game was still choppy, having 13 faceoffs through the first 8 minutes with no penalties. Sam Sternschein had a shot in front of the net but was unable to finish and at the midway point in the opening period the Lions had an 8-2 edge in shots.
The ice continued to tilt in favor of Penn State with a few shots reaching goalie John Lethemon while Peyton Jones was unchallenged. With three minutes to go before the break the shot advantage had grown to 15-2. Michigan State held the puck in the Penn State zone for the final half of a minute but only got one shot before the period ended.
The Spartans put a lot of pressure on Peyton Jones in the opening minutes of the second period, getting five shots quickly. To that point Michigan State had blocked 11 shots and allowed 17 to get to the net, while having 8 shots on net of their own.
The first penalty of the game gave the Lions a long possession with the puck and an empty net, ending with a shot by Connor McMenamin. After the play, McMenamin was hit from behind, so two Spartans went to the penalty box and it was 5 on 3 for 2 minutes. Penn State had its chances but was unable to score with the advantage.
With just under 9 minutes to play in the second period Penn State had a couple of shots, first from Liam Folkes and then Alex Limoges, that were stopped by Lethemon but the Spartans took a penalty trying to stop the push. Again the Lions were unable to score and a couple of minutes later gave up a goal when Patrick Khodorenko got one past Peyton Jones. Penn State led 32-12 in shots but trailed 1-0.
Off a face off win, Mitch Lewandowski tossed the puck behind the net and just like that, the eventual winning goal was scored. If you put the gif in high def and slow it down, you can see that the puck took a journey through several players, was deflected twice, then at the very end was on edge, swerving toward Khodorenko’s eager stick.
Evan Barratt was right there with Khodorenko and he dove to try to stop the shot, which got past the post just before Peyton Jones’ skate arrived. It was the only goal Jones let in all night.
Liam Folkes had a partial breakaway with two minutes to go before the second intermission but he was unable to finish past Lethemon.
Clayton Phillips had a key block on a shot right in front of Peyton Jones, who was down on the ice at the time, early in the third period. Through five minutes in the final frame play was even with each side getting quality shots.
Denis Smirnov and Nate Sucese each nearly scored on the same offensive possession with 13 minutes to play but the puck didn’t seem to want to go into the net.
Evan Barratt had a brief breakaway but was stopped as well. Barratt thought he was tripped on the play but did not get the call.
Liam Folkes had a great chance to score on a knuckle shot off a one-timer but Lethemon stopped it again. It was one of the best performances by a goalie in recent memory inside of the Pegula Ice Arena.
Tyler Gratton’s stick broke as he took a point-blank shot and the puck had nothing on it. With 3 minutes to play Michigan State had a great chance to put a second goal in the net but the Lions put their bodies in the way behind Peyton Jones. Denis Smirnov (25), who took a tough hit to the head and missed the second game of the Wisconsin series last week, put his body in the center of the net, face first, to help the team.
Smirnov is one of the most accomplished scorers in Penn State’s program history, but he was more than willing to risk his neck to keep the game within one goal.
With 2:02 to play and the net empty, Michigan State scored to make it 2-0. Just when it looked like it was over, the Lions went on a power play with a little more than a minute to play, and pulled the goalie for a two-skater advantage. There were scoring chances for the Lions but no goals.