Who: #6 Michigan vs #15 Penn State
Where: Thursday, Pegula Ice Arena. Saturday, Madison Square Garden.
For two years Penn State has been a thorn in Michigan's side, the team the Wolverines for some reason can't figure out.
This season the series has a much different feel. Penn State isn't an underdog anymore. They're a team that has eyes on winning the conference and reaching the postseason.
Offensively Penn State ranks 5th in the country scoring 3.96 goals per game and their power play is 7th converting on 24% of chances. Their game plan is to throw everything at the net from any angle or range and look for second chance scoring opportunities. That philosophy is the reason Penn State has led the nation in shots on goal per game three consecutive years and is the nation's leader this season.
The Nittany Lions have a strong core of uppclassmen forwards led by seniors Curtis Loik, Tommy Olczyk, Eric Scheid, Kenny Brooks and juniors David Goodwin and Dylan Richard. They also have 3 talented freshman starting with Andrew Sturtz, Chase Berger and Alec Marsh.
On the blueline the Nittany Lions have allowed 2.67 goals per game and kill penalties at an 83% rate. Luke Juha leads the group. Freshman Vince Pedrie has contributed the most offensively scoring five goals and notching eight assists.
In net Penn State has a pair of upperclassmen goaltenders.
Matthew Skoff has been a regular starter since the program joined the division one ranks and is the kind of goaltender who can absolutely stand on his head to pull off an upset. Michigan fans are well aware of this; Skoff has posted a .941 sv% and a 3-1-0 record against Michigan. One of those wins was a 32 save shutout for their first Big Ten win, the other a 52 save performance in the Big Ten Tournament that knocked Michigan out.
Eamon McAdam has started half of Penn State's games. McAdam has posted a 9-3-0 record with a .927 sv% and a 2.33 goals against.
The Wolverines will be without Dexter Dancs and Cutler Martin for this game. Sam Piazza will fill in for Martin and could find himself in a position to earn minutes. Piazza has put together a solid run of games since the GLI and Martin hasn't been great this year, so Piazza could take the third pairing spot if he plays well enough.
Defensive zone assignments will be big for the Michigan blueline with Penn State throwing everything at Steve Racine and looking for rebounds and deflections. The Wolverines must clear the front of the net and lift sticks in front, while backchecking from their forwards will be just as important.
This is the series Michigan's goaltending is put to the test. Either Racine shuts the door and locks down the job for the rest of the year or we start the goalie carousel all over again.
Michigan scores a lot of goals. Keep doing that.