Hockey Preview: Wisconsin
Brian McLaughlin, Marty Kassalen and Anthony Spada sit down to preview this weekend's matchup against Wisconsin.
It is almost getting redundant to keep saying it, but the Penn State Nittany Lions (16-6-2, 5-4-1-0 Big Ten) are still without a win since being ranked first in the nation back on January 16th. Since this curse was handed to Penn State, it has lost four straight, five if you count the shootout loss to Ohio State that started it off. Now the wounded Lions are No. 10 and travel this weekend to the No. 17 Wisconsin Badgers (15-8-1, 8-2-0-0 Big Ten) for a two game series. They will kick it off on the 10th at 8pm and finish the series the next day at the same time.
Over the history of this matchup, Penn State leads Wisconsin 9-7, winning eight of the last nine matchups. Penn State’s only loss over the last nine matchups came last year in the final game of the two teams’ series in Wisconsin. The teams have played each other eight times at the Kohl Center in Wisconsin, splitting the matches evenly.
The Badgers are on a five game winning streak and have been very dangerous lately, scoring 21 goals across that streak while only giving up 12. Penn State’s offense that had been so deadly before this slump has only put up 13 goals in the last five games, while the defense has given up 24, including at least five in all but one.
On the season, Penn State looks to have the better stats nearly across the board, with Wisconsin only leading in power-play percentage and penalty kill percentage. Looking at the season stats don’t tell you the whole story, remembering how poor the Nittany Lions’ play has been of late.
It’s hard to pinpoint Penn State’s biggest problem right now as their formally clinical special teams, defense, and now even their offense have plummeted in recent games. Since the Winter Break, the Penn State penalty-kill is only 18 for 28 and has given up a goal in eight straight games. The penalty-kill had been ranked first in the NCAA with nearly 93 percent at the beginning of the year, but is now ranked 21st with 84.2 percent. On the opponent’s side of the ice, on the power-play and at even strength the Nittany Lions can’t find the back of the net. Since this five game slump started they have only scored once in 13 power-play opportunities.
Penn State’s offense is 10-0-0 when they score five or more goals in a game and 0-5-0 when they allow five or more, with four of those losses leading up to this series. Somehow the Nittany Lions are still ranked 1st in the nation in goal scoring with 4.17 a game even though they only scored four over their last two.
Wisconsin is in the opposite boat entirely, tied for first in the Big Ten, sweeping their last two opponents, and winners of seven of their last eight. Their penalty-kill is going to be a nightmare for the struggling Lions as they rank sixth nationally with 87.4 kill percentage.
In goal, Penn State is now starting sophomore Chris Funkey who earned his first Big Ten start last Friday and set a career best 25 saves in that game. He will be opposite either Wisconsin freshman Jack Berry or sophomore Matt Jurusik, who have each started 12 games for the Badgers this season.
Wisconsin’s top scorer is sophomore forward Luke Kunin, who is tied for 6th in the nation with Penn State’s own sophomore forward, Andrew Sturtz, with 17 goals. Kunin also has nine assists on the season and is tied for 50th with 26 points. Kunin and Sturtz are also tied for eighth in shorthanded goals with two on the season. It will be interesting to see which forward plays better against such close comparison.
Tommy Butler is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.