The teams finished the last weekend of play and the results weren’t very surprising. The Big Ten – and the teams in it – have been pretty inconsistent since the league’s second year. Michigan and Wisconsin split, while the Gophers swept the Spartans. The Gophers are currently first with nine points but also have played two more games than all teams except for Michigan. Penn State is second with six. Reember – each regulation/OT win counts for three points because of the added shootout wins.
The Badgers held on for a 7-4 win on Friday night but the Wolverines took down the Wisconsin 4-1 on Saturday. Hayden Lavigne played in both games and earned the win on Saturday but allowed six goals on Friday. Zach Nagelvoort also played on Friday.
Minnesota won both games 4-2, and the Spartans struck first in both contests. The Gophers scored four unanswered on Saturday to win the game while they netted three of the last four goals on Friday to take the win.
There have also been a few injuries in the Big Ten this year – notably Wisconsin’s Trent Frederic and Matt Jurusik, both of whom missed some games. (Ferderic is back but Jurusik is not). But you can add another freshman phenom, Will Lockwood, to the list. Lockwood was hit from behind last weekend and suffered an injury. Per Wolverine 247’s Zach Shaw, sources said Lockwood has a dislocated shoulder and there is no timetable for his return.
(After the jump: What we know so far, Penn State’s second half and what teams need to work on for half No. 2)
What we know so far
Well, not much. Conference play has only just begun and the first half of the season never gives us much ti interpret. The two things about the conference we know for certain are that goaltending is still having a down year, scoring is still better than defense and the freshmen are making a big impact.
Penn State’s Denis Smirnov leads all rookies nationally with 27 points for 1.80 points per game. Tanner Laczynski is tied for second in the country amongst freshmen with 20 points. The Buckeye rookie has averaged 1.22 points per game and has tallied six goals. In the Big Ten, those are in the league top three for scoring. On the other side, redshirted Jerad Rosburg is having a great season for the Spartans defensively. And between Jack Berry, Hayden Lavigne, Jack LaFontaine and Peyton Jones, the freshmen are getting some good chances in net.
Big Ten defenses have been lagging since last year (a combination of bad defenses and really talented offenses) and that trend has continued. Lavigne has the best save percentage, and he’s a good goaltender, but most goaltenders are hovering close to .900 or below – including both of Ohio State’s netminders, Wisconsin’s netminders and Eric Schierhorn. And as far as offense goes, the Big Ten has four teams in the top 10 nationally – Penn State (first – 4.87 goals per game), Ohio State (second – 4.53 goals per game), Minnesota (T-6 – 3.62 goals per game) and Wisconsin (T-9 – 3.44 goals per game).
We’re in for another inconsistent year and, if Minnesota doesn’t strengthen, could see another season without a clear favorite for the Big Ten tournament. At this point the Gophers are probably still the favorite, but the Buckeyes are a close second.
Penn State’s Second Half
Penn State is in the midst of a long break. The Nittany Lions last played on Dec. 2 and won’t play for over a month with their next game slated for Jan. 6. While Penn State’s second-half schedule isn’t very difficult, it’s still tougher than the first half. And teams like Minnesota, Ohio State and even Wisconsin can pose threats on the offensive end.
This season playing in the Big Ten equals a relatively easy route through an automatic bid through the conference tournament. But Penn State would still need a first-day bye to have a chance at winning the tournament, so things get crucial once the calendar flips to 2017. These teams are still a little tougher than most teams Penn State played in the first half, and the Nittany Lions have a lot to prove. The key question here is if Guy Gadowsky’s game plan of “shoot as much as you can” will work against these teams. My guess is it won’t work so well against Ohio State, Minnesota and Wisconsin, because matches against those programs turns into more of an offensive, back-and-forth, transition shootout.
What teams need to work on for half No. 2
The big thing is consistency. I don’t like saying consistency because it’s an odd concept to peg as a weakness – how do you fix consistency? So the key is if Minnesota can get stronger down the road and can Ohio State, which traditionally loses in the first half and wins in the second, keep its stretch of second-half success alive.
Another big issue is defense and goaltending. Michigan’s Hayden Lavigne is probably the league’s best goaltender but Michigan’s defense is not good. Maybe Lavigne can steal games for them in the second half, but a Will Lockwood-less offense might not be able to help enough on the other end. You can apply this to Michigan State, although their offense is improving and Ed Minney’s numbers in net do not look good.
With Penn State it’s near impossible to tell. To know a teams weakness you first have to know the tea, but it’s hard to know a team when they play an easy non-conference schedule. And the teams Penn State will face now are much different, and that might change Penn State’s game plan of possessing the puck and shooting around.
And lastly for Wisconsin… Unfortunately for the Badgers, turnovers and defensive mistakes will happen when young players are being creative offensively. That should shake away as the season progresses, but the Badgers aren’t particularly strong – nor have been in a while – on the defensive end anyway.