The No. 4 ranked Michigan Wolverines (20-9-1, 12-8) are the hottest team in the country having won seven consecutive games — five of which were against top 15 opponents and three against top 10 opponents. That includes the ‘Duel in the D’ last Saturday over Michigan State.
However, part of the spark for this second-half run should be attributed to the Ohio State Buckeyes. Michigan hit rock bottom this season on Jan. 8 when the Buckeyes embarrassed the Wolverines, 7-2, at Yost during Michigan’s 100-year celebration. Something changed in the Wolverines that night.
Since then, the Wolverines have only lost once, and that was on road in overtime to No. 1 Minnesota. Luke Hughes reawakened and exploded for 16 points across the next eight games, and freshman Adam Fantilli now leads the nation with 1.88 points per game.
Although the Wolverines are dealing with injuries — they hope to see either Jacob Truscott or Seamus Casey back on the blue line this week — their momentum has been unstoppable.
No. 10 Ohio State, on the other hand, has struggled since that 7-2 victory. The Buckeyes lost the second game against Michigan (4-2) and have posted a 2-3-1 record since. While firmly in the Pairwise predictor rankings at No. 9, they cannot afford to be swept this weekend.
Freshman Stephen Halliday leads the Buckeyes in scoring with 31 points, but their true strength is their depth across all four lines. Ohio State has seen 22 different players record a point this season, and 13 players have reached double digits.
In net, Jakub Dobes has regressed over the last month. He entered the January series against the Wolverines with a .923 save percentage, but has seen that drop to .919. If Dobes is off his game the rest of the season, Ohio State will continue to drift around the fringes for the NCAA Tournament.
KEYS TO THE GAME
- Dubious Dobes - As noted above, Dobes has struggled. While Michigan interim head coach Brandon Naurato favors quality shots over quantity, it is important to test Dobes early and often with a barrage of shots. The Wolverines need to test him glove side and stick side, and see if there are any lingering holes or fractures of confidence. If the Wolverines can put one past him in the first five minutes, it could be a long night for him.
- Power play discipline (again) - Ohio State remains first nationally on the penalty kill (.890) and first in shorthanded goals with nine. Michigan cannot afford costly blue line turnovers that spark the Buckeyes in the open ice. The return of either Truscott or Casey will help bolster a thin defensive unit.
- Prepare for a weird game - It is difficult to prepare for outdoor hockey. The first period will be a massive adjustment and it is important to not stress or force anything on the ice as the game settles in to place. Michigan needs to ride the waves and trust its keys are going to be there in the second and third period.
WHEN: Thursday, Feb. 16, 7 p.m. / Saturday, Feb. 18, 4 p.m.
WHERE: Game 1- Columbus, OH, Schottenstein Center; Game 2- Cleveland, OH, FirstEnergy Stadium (Faceoff at the Lake)
HOW TO WATCH: Game 1, BIG+; Game 2, Big Ten Network
HOW TO LISTEN: Varsity Podcast Network