The No. 7 Michigan Wolverines (14-9-1) are back in action this weekend for their third straight series against a top-10 opponent. This weekend, Michigan will welcome No. 6 Penn State (18-7-1) to Yost for a two-game series.
When the two teams met in Happy Valley in early November, the Nittany Lions were undefeated, and starting Michigan goaltender Erik Portillo was unavailable due to illness. Penn State clobbered the Wolverines in the first game, 3-0, and remain the only team to shut Michigan out this season. In game two — despite blowing a 3-0 lead in the third period — Michigan was able to cling to victory in OT and hand Penn State its first loss of the year.
This weekend, Big Ten and NCAA Tournament positioning are at stake. Penn State is currently tied for second in the conference standings and Michigan is in sixth, trailing the Nittany Lions by nine points (Penn State has played 16 conference games compared to Michigan’s 14).
Penn State is led by a quartet of 20-point scorers. Kevin Wall leads the team with 21 points, while Connor McMenamin, Connor MacEachern and Ture Linden are right on his heels with 20 points each. The Nittany Lions are fast in the neutral zone and will look to get up and down the ice to create odd-man rushes for these four.
On the blue line, 5-foot-9 Jimmy Dowd makes up for his small stature with physical play and has chipped in 13 points on the offensive end. In net, Liam Souliere is second in the Big Ten with a .921 save percentage.
Keys to the game
- Limit the penalties. Michigan is the most penalized team in the Big Ten and rarely ever holds the penalty advantage in games. The last time these two teams met, Penn State held a 10-6 advantage in penalties, that was only mitigated by Michigan’s excellent penalty-kill which allowed zero special teams goals in the series. This is not sustainable or conducive to winning, so the young Wolverines must avoid the penalty box if they hope to take two games against the Nittany Lions.
- Forecheck pressure. Michigan must grind out possessions on the forecheck and limit the rushes for Penn State. In November, Penn State doubled Michigan’s output and out-shot UM 84-42 (!!!), across two games. Again, this is not sustainable and Michigan must counter with a smothering, physical forecheck and force the Nittany Lions to adjust their style of play.
- Puck possession. What helps a good forecheck? Faceoff wins. Michigan lost the faceoff battle 70-47 in the first meeting and needs to be closer to i season average of 48% to keep the puck in Penn State’s zone for extended periods of time.
- Power play rhythm. Michigan’s power play has gone ice cold recently and against Penn State’s No. 42 penalty kill, the Wolverines should be able to gain some momentum. If Michigan can improve upon faceoffs, you will also see the power play more in-sync with consistent pressure. This is a”get right” game opportunity for Michigan’s power play
- Finish! Finish! Finish! Michigan blew two late leads against Minnesota last weekend and blew a 3-0 third period lead against Penn State earlier this year. The Wolverines need to employ a strategy from the football team: get ahead, stay ahead. Late in games, Michigan tends to play too conservative, but in order to put games away against high caliber opponents, the Wolverines need to remain opportunistic offensively and take advantage of desperate teams.
WHEN: Friday, Jan. 27, 7 p.m.; Saturday, Jan. 28, 7 p.m.
WHERE: Ann Arbor, MI; Yost Arena
HOW TO WATCH: Friday, BIG+ / Saturday, Big Ten Network
HOW TO LISTEN: Varsity Podcast Network