Three Things I Think: Big Ten, Dec. 1

Posted by: Jashvina Shah

Minnesota lost to Northeastern. It happened, and one night after the Gophers – bolstered by the return of Brady Skjei – defeated Boston College. The Gophers are now winless at Matthews Arena all time.

It’s odd, especially because the Gophers have one win in their last four games. Minnesota is still missing Travis Boyd, but Brady Skjei returned for both games last weekend.

Form what I’ve heard from my colleagues who witnessed Northeastern’s upset win (yes, this I consider an upset), the Huskies came out and were ready to play. The Huskies scored a goal late to take the lead permanently.

It’s only December, but the Gophers are the only Big Ten team on the inside of the PairWise top-16. While it’s early to use the rankings as a good judge of teams, its accurate for the Big Ten conference.

The Badgers turned in their most successful weekend of the season and are now undefeated in their last two games, with a tie and a win against Ferris State. Saturday’s 5-3 victory marked Joel Rumpel’s 50th win, Corbin McGuire’s first point and Jack Dougherty’s first goal.

After watching Michigan State with Princeton this weekend, I know roughly the same about them as I did before. A once-strong Spartan defense allowed five goals on the weekend to the NCAA’s worst offense. Princeton entered the series averaging a goal per game, but scored three in Friday’s win over the Spartans. It was Princeton’s first win over Michigan State, and Spartan coach Tom Anastos was not happy.

Ohio State also split the weekend. After a 6-2 loss to eventual Shillelagh Tournament champion Western Michigan, the Buckeyes beat Notre Dame 5-1. The Irish aren’t a great team this year, but five goals is impressive for the Buckeyes.

Michigan is now on a three-game winning streak after sweeping RPI, but I’ll have more on the Wolverines below. Penn State dropped a decision to Cornell and The Nittany Lions are now on a two-game losing streak.

I said this last week and I’ll say it again – the Badgers have a legitimate chance of finishing second in the conference.

(After the jump: How the Big Ten is shaping up, Michigan State’s offensive issues and is this Michigan’s turning point?)

The Big Ten landscape

Minnesota still has the best non-conference record amongst Big Ten teams, despite the loss to Northeastern. And the last two losses to Minnesota-Duluth. Even though Minnesota has one win in its last four games (excluding the exhibition loss to the NDTP), it’s not time to panic.

The Gophers have a lot of time until the Big Ten tournament and should easily finish first. I can’t see another team who can challenge them. Minnesota is still a strong team bringing back much of its roster, and will face league foes that are very depleted and inconsistent.

Behind Minnesota is where it gets interesting. Michigan may fit into the No. 2 spot, as they seem to be playing more consistently as late, even in the 3-2 loss to Penn State a couple weekends ago.

The Badgers still have a chance of finishing in the top three. They’ve been rising for the past few weekends after dealing with three bye weeks, and finally earned their first win. There’s time for Wisconsin to right its season as far as conference play goes.

Between Ohio State, Michigan State and Penn State, I can’t tell how they’ll finish. With each team, I’ve seen flashes of something better. The Nittany Lions impressed me earlier in the season, but they’ve settled down since. I feel Ohio State is steadily getting better, but they’re still searching for offensive chemistry.

Speaking of offense, it’s a big question mark for Michigan State.

Michigan State’s offensive woes

With only six Big Ten teams, I’ve mentioned Michigan State frequently this year. Last week I explained why the Spartans can win with low Corsi numbers — they can create quality scoring chances when they have the puck. But Michigan State struggled to find the back of the net this weekend.

Defense wasn’t key for the Spartans either. They possessed Princeton, but allowed five goals on the weekend to a Tiger team that entered the series averaging a point per game. That’s alarming.

But back to the offense, which has been a chronic problem for the Spartans. Over the weekend, Matt Berry, one of their best players wasn’t even able to score on a breakaway.

After the Friday loss, Michigan coach Tom Anastos was disappointed.

“That’s been the story of our season,” Anastos said on Friday. “We’ve had a very difficult time trying to score. We had good quality chances again tonight and didn’t take advantage of them, so we’ve got to keep generating those chances. We have to get more traffic in front of the net and hopefully at some point those will go in.”

On Saturday, the Spartans managed three goals (the fourth was an empty netter). Michigan State captain Michael Ferrantino said the team is getting closer to scoring.

“We have a lot of guys that are fighting it a little bit right now and once the puck starts going in for them, we’ll start scoring a lot more goals,” Ferrantino said. “We’re getting there, there’s definitely progress but there’s still quite a bit to be made.”

Michigan’s turning point… possibly

I hesitate as I write this. I’m caught in a circle of saying one thing about Michigan and retracting it the next week. The Wolverines will face Ohio State next weekend, which will be an interesting test.

Michigan wasn’t hurt as badly with offseason turnover. With scoring and leadership returning, there was no excuse for an inconsistent start to the season.

The Wolverines are on a three-game winning streak, and may have found their consistency. After dropping a 3-2 decision against Penn State in a fairly well played game, Michigan State has scored 17 goals in the past three games. Friday’s victory was a 3-2 decision, with Michigan netting two goals in the last four minutes of play for the come-from-behind win.

The goaltending situation seems to have settled down as Zach Nagelvoort started both games, and has now started six in a row. The netminder has helped Michigan to a 5-1 record over that stretch and has improved his save percentage from .889 to .911.

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