After sweeping and dominating the defending national champions UMass last weekend, the No. 4 Michigan Wolverines return to Big Ten play, facing off against Penn State this weekend at Yost Ice Arena.
The Wolverines won both games in State College back in November by a combined score of 11-3. This is the last of four-game homestand for Michigan before going on the road to Minnesota and Wisconsin the following weeks.
Penn State currently sits in place with a conference record of 3-9 in the Big Ten. The Nittany Lions have lost their last three games by splitting with Michigan State and getting swept by Wisconsin.
Penn State has allowed more goals than anyone else in conference play and rank 10th worst in goals given up nationally. Senior Oskar Autio has played in 17 games and has one shutout to go with a .899 save percentage and 2.89 goals against average. In the 22 games Penn State has played, it has given up three goals or more in 11 of those games, and are 3-8 in those games.
Looking at just the numbers on goals given up, optics would tell you playing a team with offensive firepower like Michigan doesn’t play into the Nittany Lions strong suits.
In spite of the defensive struggles, Penn State hasn’t had as much of an issue scoring goals. The Nittany Lions are third in the Big Ten in goals for with 76, good for eighth nationally. The balanced scoring attack they have is led by Connor MacEachern and Kevin Wall who each have 20 points in 22 games.
Penn State has been pretty balanced in terms of scoring throughout the lineup with half of the 24 skaters on the roster having 10 points or more. Ben Copeland and Ryan Kirwan sit in second and third on the team lead for points with 17 (4 G, 13 A) and 14 (5 G, 9 A) respectively.
The special teams for Penn State has been pretty good — a 19.7% power play conversion, good for third in the Big Ten and tied for 25th nationally. The penalty kill has been a different story. The Nittany Lions rank 50th out of 59 teams in the nation at 74.7%. Penn State struggles when falling behind early or having to play in the defensive zone for long stretches of time.
Michigan Wins If....
The Wolverines play like they did last week, replicating that style of play where they limited defensive zone giveaways and take advantage in five-on-five transition. Owen Power, Matty Beniers and Kent Johnson had a combined 18 points in the November series against Penn State, and that’s been the formula to success. I think if they remain patient offensively, don’t force anything and stay out of the penalty box, the Wolverines should be able to get two wins this weekend.
You can catch the Wolverines in action this Friday at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday and 7 p.m. at Yost. Coverage of the game on TV will be on BTN+.