Who: #20 Michigan (6-5-1) at #7 Penn State (11-1-1)
Where: Pegula Ice Arena
When: Thursday, 6:30pm EST — Friday, 7:00pm EST
About Penn State
Heading into the season both Michigan and Penn State were picked to finish in the middle of the Big Ten. Each team had question marks at key positions to start the season after losing upperclassmen goaltenders as well as skill players at forward but as we head into Big Ten play the Nittany Lions have found the answers to those questions while the Wolverines are still struggling to find out who they are.
Head coach Guy Gadowsky has the Nittany Lions firing on all cylinders heading into Big Ten play. Pundits will say that Penn State is overrated relative to their rankings in the polls (7th) and in the RPI (3rd) because of a weaker schedule, however, the Nittany Lions have lost just 1 time this season to a pretty good St. Lawrence team and have won convincingly in all of their last eight games.
The offensive identity that Guy Gadowsky has brought to State College features an aggressive, 2-deep forward forecheck to go along with an in-zone offense predicated on throwing every possible puck on net from anywhere in the offensive zone. That has once again placed Penn State at #1 in the country in shots on goal with an average of 47(!) shots on goal per game.
Their mantra of throwing pucks on net while getting bodies to the blue paint has been particularly chaotic this season and has propelled the Nittany Lions to #1 in the country in scoring offense with a 4.77 goals per game average. Their power play has also been impressive converting on 20% of chances.
Andrew Sturtz and Denis Smirnov have been their best forwards this season; Sturtz leads the team with ten goals and Smirnov leads the Big Ten in scoring with a 9-13--22 line. The biggest threat from the blueline is sophomore defenseman Vince Pedrie who leads all Big Ten defensemen with five goals.
On the back-end Penn State has been almost as impressive defensively as they have been on offense. The Nittany Lions have made life easy for their freshman goaltender by allowing 23 shots on goal per game, the fourth best mark in the country, while also ranking 4th in the country in goals allowed per game and boasting the 2nd best penalty kill in the country.
In net Peyton Jones has played pretty well posting a .912 SV%, a 2.16 goals against and a perfect 9-0-1 record. He’s good.
This is the worst match-up possible for a Michigan team that has been outshot in almost every period this season. Penn State and their chaos brand of hockey has been a thorn in the side of the Wolverines since they joined the ranks of division-1 hockey but this team doesn’t rely on bounces and bad rebounds like they have in the past. They’re just really good.
Michigan’s offensive mentality is going to have to mirror that of their opponent. They must get pucks to the net with traffic in front; flinging pucks on net from the walls won’t cut it and another 20 shot night from the Wolverines will get them doubled up in shots and swept. This should be a good weekend for the grit forwards like Lockwood and Winborg.
For the love of all things hockey can Red Berenson get Brendan Warren back on the wing? They badly need offense and Warren is wasting away at an unnatural position. The same goes for Max Shuart. He scored six goals last year as a 4th line center and has zero this year playing wing.
Hayden Lavigne missed the Lake State series with an illness and didn’t travel to Pennsylvania so goaltending duties will fall to Zach Nagelvoort and Jack LaFontaine.