Three Things I Think: Big Ten, Dec. 2

Posted by: Jashvina Shah

After another season of Big Ten play, it’s evident the teams are pretty even. Wisconsin and Penn State split while Ohio State and Minnesota and Michigan State and Michigan almost split — the Buckeyes won a game and tied while Michigan State won a game and tied. Notre Dame swept RPI.

The Buckeyes are now first in the conference with a three-point lead over Notre Dame. Michigan is still fourth, while Penn State – despite its 10 overall wins, which is tied with Notre Dame for first in the conference – is last. But only eight points separate Ohio State and Penn State.

Only the Buckeyes and Fighting Irish have four wins, while every other team in the Big Ten has just two conference wins. The difference between place No. 3 and place No. 7 lies in the ties and shootout wins. 

Can Notre Dame keep up the scoring?

The Fighting Irish quickly took down RPI this weekend. They scored eight goals total, just after I wrote a story about the team trying to fill in for some of its lost scoring from last season. The Fighting Irish really aren’t that far off from where they were at this time last year, but last year they didn’t score eight goals on the Engineers.

Even if Notre Dame wasn’t going to find replacement scoring, I still wouldn’t be worried about the team. Cale Morris is Cale Morris and there is no substitute nor equal to solid goaltending. 

It seems like the Fighting Irish are in a much better spot than last season, and some of the other players who scored last year have been stepping up. But, before last weekend Jeff Jackson did say that the team is still trying to find consistency in its lines. There’s no proof yet that Notre Dame will keep up its scoring.

Offense isn’t sustainable

I spoke to Mel Pearson last week about the team’s goaltending situation. Michigan currently doesn’t have the same level of goaltending — at least when it comes to numbers — as it did last year with Hayden Lavigne’s save percentage. I asked Pearson if he thought the Wolverines can still make a run like they did last year given they have been scoring well of late.

His answer was simple: Not really. Pearson said he wants that goaltending back because offense isn’t the way to win championships. At some point, the offense is going to run out. He said it would for them and it most likely will for Penn State.

I agree. Defense and goaltending does win championships, and there’s no better proof of that than the Big Ten from a few years ago. Pearson was still in the WCHA at the time, but Michigan boasted players like JT Compher and Kyle Connor. It wasn’t enough. Like the other Big Ten teams that year, the Wolverines were stalled pretty early into the NCAA tournament.

It’s still a little early to see who’s going to fare well defensively but it’s worth noting.

The curious case of the goaltending tandems

Right now there are a few teams in the Big Ten that have been using two goaltenders. Most notably is Ohio State. After a great performance last season, Sean Romeo was presumed to be the starter by many. But then came sophomore Tommy Nappier. He played in siz games last season but has been splitting starts with Romeo and has already played in nine.

And he’s doing really well.

Nappier has a .951 save percentage, the second-highest in the country. Of the top-10 goaltenders, only five goaltenders have played in more games than him, and one of those is Cale Morris. Romeo’s save percentage is .912, but the rotation seems to be working for Ohio State. The Buckeyes seem poised to make a return to the NCAA tournament, which poses an interesting question.

Will the Buckeyes end up in the NCAA tournament with a goaltending rotation?

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