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Hockey splits series against Penn State

Penalties and defense prevented the Wolverines from securing the sweep

COLLEGE HOCKEY: JAN 19 Penn State at Michigan Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Michigan hockey split its series against Penn State this past Wednesday and Thursday. The Wolverines notched a 3-1 win on Wednesday before Penn State took the Thursday game in a 9-5 shootout. As we’ll get into below, this series and the prior series against Notre Dame should make clear that Michigan has some work to do.

Penn State’s flurry works

If you take a look at the box scores for these two games, the first thing that jumps out after the top-line scores is the sheer number of shots that Penn State mustered over the two games. The Nittany Lions leveled 39 shots at Strauss Mann in the Wednesday game and improved their output to 43 shots in the Thursday game. Now, Strauss Mann is a very capable goalie, but when you face a barrage of shots like that several are going to find the net. Mann made a herculean 38 saves on Wednesday and made 19 saves on Thursday before the coaching staff put in freshman Erik Portillo after Penn State tallied their sixth goal about halfway through the second period. Not many of the six goals were Mann’s fault, as the Nittany Lions were getting good scoring chances and capitalizing.

Defense needs to tighten up

A big reason why the Nittany Lions were able to consistently generate good scoring chances is because the defense wasn’t effective for significant portions of this series. Things started to head downhill in the defensive zone toward the end of the first game and stretches of the second game were not great. The vast majority of Penn State’s shots in the first game (31 of 39) came in the second and third periods, and but for Strauss Mann making some excellent saves the Nittany Lions may have come back in that game. In the second game, Penn State was often able to exploit the Wolverine defense and shoot uncontested shots. Michigan also surrounded a season-high 31 penalty minutes, nearly doubling their season total in just this one game. When your goalies make 34 saves in a game, you should win that game. But Penn State came away with the victory in game two.

The offense is still alright

While Penn State’s offensive successes in this series deserve attention, Michigan’s offense did just fine in its own right. Scoring eight goals in two games, the Wolverines proved their attack is still lethal. The second game in particular saw Michigan capitalize on their scoring chances at a better rate than normal. The Wolverines mustered a slightly below average 28 shots on goal (season average is 34 SOG) but managed an above average offensive output of five goals. While the defense needs to get sorted out, the offense can still exploit space, move the puck, and find the net as this goal from Brisson on Thursday shows.

Michigan will be back in action against Minnesota on Tuesday and Wednesday of next week. The Tuesday game will start at 8:30 p.m. and will be broadcast on Big Ten Network, while the Wednesday game will start at 6:30 p.m. and will also be broadcast on Big Ten Network.