Three Things I Think: Big Ten, Jan. 26

Posted by: Jashvina Shah

After throwing up 13 goals on the weekend in a sweep over Wisconsin, Michigan is now first in the Big Ten. The Wolverines have scored 34 goals in their past five games, and average 4.36 goals per game.

Eventually Michigan will face a strong defensive team (Ohio State and Wisconsin aren’t exactly defensive stalwarts), and their offensive numbers will go down. Next weekend will be telling, as the Wolverines will host the Spartans.

Speaking of the Spartans, they unsurprisingly stymied Ohio State’s offense, surrendering just one goal over the weekend. Matt Berry returned to the team after a force leave, and had a goal and an assist on Friday. He added an assist on Saturday. Berry now leads Michigan State with 16 points, and averages a point per game. Also, Matthew Weis was given a 10-minute misconduct for this hit on Michael Ferrantino. It definitely looked like contact to the head.

Until they get healthy, the Buckeyes have little chance of defeating any of their Big Ten opponents (except for Wisconsin). They’re missing some of their offensive power, and don’t have the defense to stop teams with poor defenses (like Michigan).

The Gophers lost both their games at the North Star College Cup, and have lost five of their nine games against Minnesota teams, and haven’t won since Nov. 1. I was actually expecting Minnesota to lose to Minnesota State. At the end of this game, Maverick goalie Stephon Williams knocked his net off so the referees would blow the whistle as his teammate late injured on the ice. Seth Ambroz took the penalty shot, and Williams made the save (not surprising considering the Gophers are terrible at shootouts).

This was my first time watching the Mavericks, and they looked excellent against the Gophers – like a true No. 1 team. But I was even more impressed with Bemidji State, which took down both Minnesota-Duluth and the Mavericks. I was pretty impressed with some of the skill, especially this goal from Kyle Bauman.

While we’re on the highlight reel, some of my favorite tallies from the weekend were this goal from Bryce Gervais (and a great pass from Matt Leitner), Evan Rodrigues’ end-to-end rush, Eric Scheid’s shorthanded goal on Saturday, another breakaway from Scheid, this hit on Travis Boyd from Minnesota-Duluth, and especially this huge hit from P.J. Musico, Penn State’s goalkeeper.

Michigan moved up to No. 12 in the PairWise, now Big Ten’s highest-ranked team. Minnesota is No. 20, while Penn State is No. 24. Michigan State is very low at No. 38, but I think they have a chance at winning the Big Ten tournament – especially with the offensive boost Matt Berry brings.

(After the jump: Penn State’s problem, quite the comeback(s), and why Michigan isn’t built for a tournament run)  

Penn State’s problem

Surprise, it’s the same problem the rest of the conference has – goaltending.

I think Penn State is one of the most complete teams, with solid defense and offense. But the Nittany Lions allowed nine goals over the weekend, and used all three goalkeepers. Matthew Skoff started on Friday and Eamon McAdam started on Saturday, but both goalkeepers were pulled from the game.

McAdam didn’t play well on Saturday – he couldn’t hold on to the puck and lost track of his rebounds. P.J. Musico appeared in relief on both Friday and Saturday, and earned the win on Friday.

Weak goaltending has hurt the Big Ten’s best – especially Michigan and Wisconsin. Jake Hildebrand has the conference’s best save percentage, ahead of last year’s top netminder Adam Wilcox. If Penn State can solidify its goaltending, it will actually be a complete team.

Quite the comeback(s)

There were three on the weekend, but none more interesting than Penn State’s. The Nittany Lions fell down 4-1 on Friday after allowing four goals in 13 minutes. But Casey Bailey scored with less than 30 seconds left in the second. Dylan Richard and David Glen scored in the third to tie the game, and freshman Scott Conway capped it off with four minutes left.

Things started differently on Saturday, as Penn State appeared to score first. But the goal was waved off, and the Wildcats scored three tallies in the first. Eric Scheid scored a shorthanded goal to make it 3-1, but Seckel restored the lead to three several minutes later. Three straight Penn State goals tied the game, and the Nittany Lions managed to send it to overtime.

It was a pretty interesting weekend for the Nittany Lions, which scored 10 goals – but gave up nine.

In another time zone, Michigan fell down 4-1 to Wisconsin. The Wolverines’ high-powered offense scored the next six goals, which included a Justin Selman hat trick, to defeat Wisconsin.

Michigan isn’t built for a tournament run

The Wolverines have the nation’s best offense. They’ve averaged a touchdown per game over their past five contests, scoring 34 goals over that span. At 4.36 goals per game, Michigan is averaging almost a goal per game more than the Big Ten’s next best offense – Penn State.

Zach Hyman has 35 points, averages 1.59 points per game, good for third in the nation, and is on a seven-game point streak, with 18 points (9g, 9a) per game. Dylan Larkin is also on a seven-game point streak, and has 17 points (7g, 10a) over that span.

But eventually the Wolverines will face a team with a defense and a good offense.

Michigan has proved – by allowing six goals to a very depleted Ohio State team and allowing four to Wisconsin – they have goalkeeping and defensive issues. We knew defense would be a problem, but goaltending issues have added more questions.

The Wolverines have scored four or more goals 11 times this season. Those games were against Ohio State, Wisconsin, Minnesota, UMass-Lowell, RPI, AIC and Penn State. RPI, Ohio State, Wisconsin and AIC rank in the bottom 11 in terms of goals allowed per game. Minnesota ranks 28th, and Penn state is 41st.

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