Less than a month remains in the season and the Big Ten is still in flux. Just eight points separate teams two through seven, which equates to roughly three conference games. The Buckeyes are in first by eight points, but the pair of weekend losses to the Gophers dropped Ohio State to seventh in the PairWise.
The Buckeyes right now are the only Big Ten team currently inside the top 16. Notre Dame and Penn State are outside the bubble at 17 and 18, respectively.
Michigan State is a lot better than people think
After splitting a series with Penn State, the Spartans are sixth in the conference and have been hopping up and down the standings the second half of the season. Backed by their top line of Taro Hirose, Patrick Khoderenko and Mitchell Lewandowski, the Spartans have contended this season. The goaltending has improved slightly as well, with freshman Drew DeRidder posting a team-high .910 save percentage. He’s been splitting starts with John Lethemon.
A few weeks ago I spoke with Khoderenko and he said this year the team believes they should be winning games. Danton Cole has only been at the helm for a few seasons, but the fact he’s coaching a team mostly comprised of Tom Anastos’ recruits and he’s getting them to win is a good sign for the Spartans.
It can be argued the Big Ten isn’t as strong this year as it was last year, which is true. But Michigan State’s play has improved regardless.
‘Tis the season of World Junior injuries
Penn State’s Evan Barrett was injured in Saturday’s game against Michigan State. Wisconsin is still without K’Andre Miller, who may miss the rest of the season. Those players were injured after returning from the tournament, but both Penn State and Michigan already lost players at the tournament in Aarne Talvitie and Josh Norris. And Will Lockwood was hurt at last year’s World Juniors.
What’s worse is that all these teams are fighting for home advantage in a very close Big Ten.
Ohio State’s Goaltending
Nappier leads the Big Ten in goaltending with a .939 save percentage. That’s 10 points above last year’s leader, Cale Morris. But, Nappier has started 10 less games than Morris and has played in seven less games because he’s been splitting starts with Sean Romeo. Romeo, a large part of Ohio State’s success last year, has a .908 save percentage.
Nappier is also the only goaltender in the top three who hasn’t held majority of his team’s starts this year. He shares that honor with Michigan State’s Drew DeRidder, who ranks fourth as a 00 freshman and has a .910 save percentage but has played in just 16 games.
While Nappier’s numbers have been better all season, the team has fared about equally with Nappier and Romeo. Nappier has played in three of Ohio State’s losses while Romeo has played in two. That isn’t an indication of which goaltender is better, but rather perhaps an indication of why Steve Rohlik has kept the rotation despite Nappier’s higher save percentage.