Three Things I Think: Big Ten, Jan. 11

Posted by: Jashvina Shah

The weekend of Big Ten action featured a sweeps, a series split and a win/loss and a tie. Michigan swept Michigan State, Ohio State defeated and tied Wisconsin while Penn State split with Minnesota.Michigan scored 15 goals over the weekend, defeating the Spartans by a combined score of 15-5. Penn State defeated Minnesota 3-2 in overtime on Friday night, while Minnesota won 7-1. The Buckeyes beat the Badgers 2-0 before settling for a 4-4 tie the next night.

The most interesting series of the weekend were Penn State-Minnesota and Ohio State-Wisconsin. I’m not surprised the Gophers and Nittany Lions split, although I am surprised that Minnesota limited Penn State to four goals in two games … and scored seven of its own in one game.

As far as the Badgers and Buckeyes are concerned, the Buckeyes have the edge – for now. The results say that Ohio State, which has played well against most teams all season, is definitely a better team than Wisconsin. But where can the Buckeyes finish?

We learned some things from conference play, but it’s hard to tell if these impressions will hold as the season progresses.

(After the jump: Michigan State’s fate, a defensive test and the surprise team)

Michigan State’s fate

This is an odd thing to write, since Michigan State was pushing at the conference powers last season. Backed by Jake Hildebrand and an effective defense, the Spartans were very difficult to play against. And they were one of the few teams that could keep Zach Hyman and Dylan Larkin from electrifying the scoreboard.

But now? Now the Spartans look far less than last year’s team. Hildebrand is still good, but the team around him, especially the defense, has struggled. If you watch the Spartans, defensive woes are evident. And if you haven’t seen them play, here’s a statistic that says a lot – the Spartans allow 3.59 goals per game, tied for 53rd in the country. Last year the Spartans allowed 2.29 goals per game.

After thinking about the Ohio State-Wisconsin series, I realized that series wasn’t a battle for last place in the conference. That spot goes to Michigan State, the team from last year that hasn’t shown improvement.

A defensive test

The problem with analyzing stats of Big Ten teams is their non-conference schedule. The Wolverines, right now, average a national-best 4.68 goals per game. But that doesn’t account for strength of schedule, which boosted those numbers. It’s the same for Penn State, which averages 4.15 goals per game. So Penn State against Minnesota was a test for both teams – to see if Penn State’s offense is really that good, or if Minnesota and its rookie goaltender can make the stop.

Well, the answer to the second question is yes. I’m still not sure what the answer to the first question is, but Penn State’s offense was still a test for the Gophers. And stopping the Nittany Lions to just four goals on the weekend can’t be ignored.

Eric Scheirhorn stopped 65 shots over the weekend, and could be the key if Minnesota has success in the conference tournament.

The surprise team 

It’s not Wisconsin. Instead it was the team that left the Kohl Center (once an impossible venue for away team wins) – the Buckeyes. Since Ryan Dzingel’s departure, the Buckeyes have been written off as a mediocre team. But Ohio State still has scoring power, and has played well against teams. If no one noticed it before, it has to be noticed now – the Buckeyes are on a four-game unbeaten streak.

Laugh at the Big Ten conference and a win over Wisconsin if you want (but remember they beat North Dakota), but don’t forget the Buckeyes beat Boston College. And then scored eight goals on Cornell.

The big key to this year is consistency.

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