Hockey Preview: Minnesota
Will Desautelle, Anthony Spada and Travis Sutton preview this weekend's hockey matchup between Penn State and Minnesota. You can listen to both games on CommRadio.
It took five games across three full series, but the No. 9 Penn State Nittany Lions (18-6-2, 7-4-1 Big Ten) are finally back to their winning ways after sweeping Wisconsin last week. Hopefully with some confidence back, the Nittany Lions will look to get revenge on Big Ten leaders, No. 5 Minnesota Golden Gophers (18-8-2, 9-3 Big Ten), who took both games of their first series just two weeks ago. The two-game series will be played on Friday at 6:30 p.m. and Saturday at 8 p.m.
Last time these two teams played, the Gophers outscored the Nittany Lions 10-3 across both games in Minnesota. With the two wins this season, the Gophers lead the all-time series 11-3 including the last four games, each by three or more goals. Penn State couldn’t get anything past Minnesota’s goalie during the first series and didn’t show up on the defensive side of the ice. Minnesota, on the other hand, took advantage of Penn State’s woes, capitalizing on the Lions’ nearly non-existent defense at the time by scoring two power play goals and eight even strength goals. It was the most dominant series sweep the Gophers have had all year, and the Nittany Lions will want that bad taste out of their mouth.
In the week since their throttling of Penn State, the Golden Gophers split their series with Ohio State, scoring 10 times for the second week in a row. Minnesota won the second game of the series 6-5 having scored all six goals on power-play opportunities, a school record. The team is now ranked fourth in the nation in power play percentage at 21.7 percent and have a power play goal in each of the last seven games and 12 of the last 13.
Penn State ended their skid beginning right after they were named the top team in the nation by sweeping Wisconsin last weekend. Penn State scored six goals in the first game and five in the second, bringing them to 12-0-0 on the season when scoring five or more goals. Good news for Penn State fans is that the team’s offense is back, especially when they score an average of 4.27 goals on the season including their drought. Bad news is that they are 0-5-0 on the season when they allow five goals to be scored against them in a game. Four of the five times that has happened this year were in their slump over the last three weeks, two were against Minnesota and Minnesota has scored five or more in three of their last four games.
Looking at the season’s statistics, Penn State has more impressive numbers. On paper Penn State scores more goals (111 to 109), allows fewer goals (67 to 79) and has more shots per game (46.3 to 34.2). Penn State has the top-ranked offense and the 21st ranked defense in the NCAA. Minnesota has the better special teams, however, with a better power play percentage (27.1 to 20.5), and penalty kill percentage (83.3 to 82.7) making them the fourth ranked power play and 27th ranked penalty killing team in the nation. Minnesota’s offense is ranked fourth and their defense is ranked 31st. Even so, Minnesota still gets the advantage on the ice as they are on a roll recently, winning seven of their last 10 games. Penn State is 5-4-1 over their last 10 games with the one tie ending in a shootout loss.
The Maroon and Gold’s biggest scoring threat is sophomore forward Tyler Sheehy, who leads the Big Ten in scoring with 41 points (17 goals and 24 assists) after adding five points during the Ohio State series. Sheehy ranks eighth nationally in scoring. Minnesota’s captain, senior forward Justin Kloos is second on the team in scoring with 34 points (14 goals and 20 assists). He is ranked 16th in the nation, tied with two other players including Penn State’s Denis Smirnov. Three of Kloos’ goals were scored while shorthanded, good enough for fourth in the nation. Sophomore forward Brent Gates Jr. leads the team in power play goals with seven, good enough to tie for 12th in the nation. In goal for Minnesota will likely be sophomore Eric Schierhorn who is tied for sixth in the NCAA with four shutouts on the year.
The Blue and White have been able to rely on freshman forward Denis Smirnov to lead the team in scoring with 34 points (14 goals and 20 assists). Smirnov is the top-ranked freshman scorer in the NCAA. Andrew Sturtz leads Penn State in goals with 17 on the year and is 13th nationally, tied with Minnesota’s Sheehy, while David Goodwin leads in assists with 21 and ranked 21st nationally. In goal for Penn State will likely be freshman Peyton Jones, who had a great weekend against Wisconsin, stopping 57 of 62 shots. Jones is ranked 31st in the nation with an average of 2.57 goals allowed per game.
This weekend looks to be a high scoring one and Penn State will surely aim to flip the results of the two teams’ earlier series in their favor.
Tommy Butler is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email email@example.com.