Three Things I Think: Big Ten, Feb. 17

Posted by: Jashvina Shah

For the second time this season — and the first since  Nov. 16 at Miami — the Badgers won a game on the road. Wisconsin split the weekend series with Ohio State, and the Buckeyes now are tied for the No. 3 spot in the Big Ten standings with Michigan.

Ohio State’s Ryan Dzingel passed the 100-point mark in the loss to Wisconsin on Saturday. He’s the first Buckeye junior to reach the mark since R.J. Umberger scored his 100th in 2003. Dzingel, a Hobey Baker candidate, is one of the best forwards in the nation (and he’s in my Hobey Hat Trick). He leads Big Ten scoring with 38 points, but his assist on Saturday was his first point since Feb. 7.

The Nittany Lions tied Michigan State on Friday (and then lost in the shootout) and lost on Saturday. Penn State has scored more than three goals just once over its last 15 games. But, the Nittany Lions have been more competitive than the score indicates in some of those games. With four points so far, the Nittany Lions are locked into the sixth seed. (It’s actually mathematically possible for Penn State to move up a spot, but unlikely.)

For the Spartans, the victory snapped a seven-game winless streak. Over that stretch, Michigan State went 0-3-4 and allowed two goals or less in six of those seven games.

The Gophers, seven points ahead of Wisconsin, should have the No. 1 seed. Michigan and Ohio State are tied with 20 points while Michigan State has 19, but seeding doesn’t matter that much outside of the first two.

(After the jump: Where Wisconsin should finish, Big Ten goalkeeping and the state of Minnesota)

Wisconsin’s should have the No. 2 seed

Four of Wisconsin’s last six games are on the road, leaving a two-game set against Michigan State as the last series at the Kohl Center this season. The Badgers are one of them best teams at home and are capable of beating anyone in Wisconsin.

The Badgers are five points ahead of Michigan and Ohio State for the second seed and six above Michigan State — a team Wisconsin will play four times before the season ends. The Badgers will also travel to Penn State for a two-game set.

Wisconsin played well over the weekend at the Buckeyes, one of only two teams who’ve beaten the Badgers at home this year. In each game last weekend, the Badgers allowed two goals.

Wisconsin’s numbers on the road don’t look great — as I’ve mentioned before — but four road losses came at Minnesota, Boston University and Boston College. The Badgers allowed 16 goals in Boston that weekend, which can skew the numbers.

I haven’t trusted the Badgers on the road this season. But after catching some of Wisconsin’s games against Ohio State, I think the Badgers should easily end the season with enough points for second place. The Buckeyes still have to face Minnesota twice, while Michigan State meets up with Michigan — a team they’ve struggled to beat indoors this season — again.

(H/t to Tony Jovenitti for giving me the idea for this topic.)

There’s some good goaltending in the Big Ten

One of my favorite Big Ten storylines is Christian Frey. He joined an Ohio State team with a very tumultuous goalkeeping situation and has given the team a lot of stability in net.

Last week I mentioned Frey, as well as Michigan State’s Jake Hildebrand and how well they’ve been playing.

Frey’s save percentage of .934 now ranks third in the country, just behind Clay Witt and Connor Hellebuyck. Both Hildebrand and Wisconsin’s Joel Rumpel hold save percentages of .933 and Adam Wilcox has a save-percentage of .931.

The Spartans — who have one of the stingiest defenses in the league — block a lot of shots. Out of 26 games this season, Hildebrand has faced less than 30 shots 11 times. But he’s still played well when facing more shots, like the 40-plus shots he saw against Ohio State. Since a 5-3 loss to Ohio State on Jan. 10, Hildebrand has allowed two or less goals in all but one game. His goals-against average improved from 2.45 to 2.15.

The one goalkeeper I mention but don’t talk about much is Wisconsin’s Rumpel. He has the conference’s best goals-against average at 1.85 — slightly lower than Adam Wilcox, who holds a 1.97 goals-against average. Rumpel, who wasn’t playing when Wisconsin gave up nine goals at BC and seven at BU, has allowed a season-high four goals once. But that was on Nov. 30m and he hasn’t allowed more than two goals in a game over the last five contests.

Unfortunately I don’t get to watch the Badgers as much as I would like, but he’s definitely worth mentioning.

The Gophers are fine

I worried about Minnesota’s offense, especially because I think Adam Wilcox has been playing well this season. But after scoring three goals total in three games, the Gophers netted nine goals last weekend. Sam Warning, who hadn’t scored since Jan. 25, recorded two assists on Friday and added a goal on Saturday. His 30 points are second in Big Ten scoring.

As I mentioned earlier, the Gophers are almost a lock for the first seed. They’re seven points ahead of the Badgers, and I don’t think the offensive struggles are indicative of how the team’s been playing.

Minnesota struggled offensviely against the Badgers in Wisconsin, a very good home team, and the Spartans. Michigan State has one of the stingiest defenses in the country, allowing 2.28 tallies per game and blocking a nation-high 18.21 shots per game.

In their last six games, Minnesota will face Penn State, Ohio State and Michigan. None of those teams have defenses as strong as Michigan State’s. And those teams aren’t as good as Wisconsin.

The Gopher offense jumped from No. 7 to No. 5 nationally after the weekend.

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