Three Things I Think: Big Ten, Nov. 24Posted by: Jashvina Shah
Well, that was an interesting weekend.
Both Big Ten conference matchups ended in splits, except Michigan rebounded from a 3-2 loss with an 8-1 win. Yes, they scored eight goals against Penn State, and five of those goals came in the third period. After rewatching Michigan’s 8-1 win, the final minutes of the game was a disaster for Penn State. The Wolverines were aggressive in their loss, and continued that play in the victory on Saturday.
The weekend confirmed my suspicion about Big Ten play: I will never know which team is going to win on a given night. Except for Minnesota.
The more the season progresses, the less I know what to expect from any team — except Wisconsin. Even though the Badgers are winless and lost to Colorado College, they still have a legitimate chance to finish high in the Big Ten conference. That’s how inconsistent and questionable the conference is right now.
As far as Ohio State and Michigan State goes, I still don’t know which team is better. The Spartans won 3-1 the first night, but fell to Ohio State 3-0 the second night. From the first game, I learned why Michigan State can win without possessing the puck. They generate quality scoring chances and Jake Hildebrand is good. And so is And Mackenzie MacEachern.
Hildebrand wasn’t the only Big Ten goalkeeper to start both games over the weekend, as Penn State’s Eamon McAdam, Michigan’s Zach Nagelvoort and Ohio State’s Matt T0mkins also played in both games. Joel Rumpel was the only netminder who didn’t, as he only played in the 3-2 loss to Denver.
McAdam has appeared in net for Penn State after replacing a pulled Matthew Skoff on Nov. 14. McAdam has started in three straight games, and his save percentage dropped from .952 to .906 after Saturday’s eight-goal game. Nagelvoort didn’t look too shaky for Michigan, and has started four straight games. Tomkins earned his first shutout of the season in Ohio State’s 3-0 win on Friday.
The only guarantee in the Big Ten is that Minnesota will finish first. But anyone could finish from second to sixth. The scary part is there’s a chance Wisconsin, the worst team in the country, could finish higher than last place.
Also, KRACH is out — the best way to rank reams. Minnesota is fifth, and the next highest team is Penn State at 20. Ohio State is 27, Michigan 31, Michigan State 40 and Wisconsin dead last. Yes, just after winning the Big Ten tournament, the Badgers are dead last. Given the confusing nature of the Big Ten, that order sounds right.
(After the jump: I will never understand Michigan, why Michigan State can win without the puck and Corsi things)
I will never understand the Wolverines. Last year they toyed with us all season long and the pattern has extended to this year. The Wolverines have struggled despite the incoming talent, and some weeks they look like a good team, and other times they don’t.
With the way Penn State was playing, I expected a series split at Yost this weekend. I didn’t expect Michigan to give up three goals to Penn State so quickly, and I really didn’t expect the Wolverines throw up eight goals. If the games had been at Penn State, I could’ve seen the Nittany Lions sweeping.
This Wolverine team has gone from being an enigma on a weekly basis to being an enigma on a nightly basis. It’s hard to know what to expect from them or if the 8-1 win over Penn State will stick, because sometimes they’re as aggressive as they were Saturday. But sometimes they turn the puck over too much and can’t find the net.
That’s why any team can take second in the Big Ten.
Why Michigan State can win without the puck
After watching Michigan State beat Ohio State on Friday, there were a couple of things that stood out. The Spartans are known for scoring troubles and never possessing the puck, although their scoring — see Matt Berry — has picked up with the return of one of their top forwards. Michigan State actually wins when they possess the puck less, which is a strange trend. But here’s why the Spartans can do that:
1. They have some pretty good players.
I mentioned Matt Berry earlier. He was injured last season, but is healthy now and is tied for the team lead with 10 points. Behind him is Mackenzie MacEachern, who has nine points this season. MacEachern, a sophomore, looked impressive on Thursday night. Then there’s Jake Hildebrand, an excellent last line of defense. He has a .917 save percentage.
2. When they have the puck, they make it count
Even when Ohio State dominated possession in the Thursday game, the Spartans had their shots at net. And they created some quality scoring chances when they had the puck, which is more important than just throwing shots randomly at net.
3. They don’t give up many quality scoring chances
Conversely, the Spartans do a great job at limiting opponent quality scoring chances. I wish I had more shot charts to back this one up, but I’ve noticed this when watching Michigan State play. When the Spartans do allow top-notch attempts, Hildebrand can usually stop it.
After having a discussion about advanced stats on Twitter this week, I wanted to clarify some things about Corsi. Corsi is the best way we have to measure possession, and I’ve calculated it on a weekly basis for each Big Ten team because I think it’s interesting to see what these stats say.
But, these stats don’t necessarily indicate how good a team is. It is very difficult to sustain a winning record when you never posses the puck (as Northeastern showed us with the Clay Witt affect). But teams can win with low Corsi percentages, and Michigan State actually wins more games when they posses the puck less. It’s just a trend for some teams, and something I noticed with Minnesota.
When I provide Corsi stats, I don’t intend to say if a team is good or bad, merely how much they’re possessing a puck. Possession doesn’t mean as much without quality scoring chances, so this is one part of a more complicated package. It’s just something to keep in mind as the season goes on and I start comparing Corsi stats in Big Ten play.