Nittany Lions Hit the Road for a Weekend Series against Michigan State
John Petrolias, Carson Brown and Bria Donnelly break down this weekend's matchup between Penn State amd Michigan State from East Lansing.
The Nittany Lions (17-8-3,7-5-0 Big Ten) will face-off against the Michigan State Spartans (7-19-2,3-9-0-0 Big Ten), seeking their first win at Munn Ice Arena since 2013. After a split last weekend with Minnesota, who is second in the Big Ten standings, this weekend’s matchup is pivotal for Penn State to capitalize on a struggling Michigan State team as they continue to sit at number three in the Big Ten.
Although the Spartans started the year off slow and have continuously struggled throughout the season, Michigan State played their best game of the series against Michigan in a 3-2 OT victory and coming out of the series with a split. The number one team in Big Ten standings and fifth overall with an elite top line of Kyle Connor, JT Compher and Tyler Motte was bested by the Green and White last weekend.
The Spartans proved that they shouldn’t be taken lightly despite their struggling season. Penn State’s biggest threats this upcoming weekend include Jake Hildebrand and Joe Cox. Hildebrand’s performance last Friday was a key factor in Michigan State’s OT win. He stopped 40 pucks from reaching the back of the net on 42 shots, shutting down the highest-scoring line in the nation. Cox was deservingly named Big Ten’s third star of the week, who scored two goals in the 3-2 OT victory.
A short-handed Penn State side was able to earn the historic split at Minnesota to stay within six points of the Big Ten lead entering the home stretch. However, Penn State’s schedule will make it tough on its chances of overtaking the Gophers and Wolverines. The Nittany Lions have only two games left at home and six on the road. They face the Spartans, Wisconsin and Michigan, in a season-ending series, on the road, and host Ohio State next weekend. Therefore, it is a must for the Blue and White to sweep a slow Michigan State on the road.
The Blue and White may not have not have a point scorer in the top 60 nationally and may not have an elite top line like Michigan, but they have 14 skaters who have tallied 10 points this season. Penn State’s offensive depth is part of the reason for their successful season so far, their best season as a D1 hockey team.
The Blue and White’s offense, one of the best in the country this season, has tallied 3.86 goals per game (fifth in NCAA), topping the Spartan’s 2.4 goals per game. The Spartans also allow 3.5 goals a game, proving Hildebrand is beatable and is struggling this season. The Nittany Lions are at the top of the shots per game category again (42.93), which will give Penn State an advantage against Michigan State who allow 32.7 shots on goal per game.
On Penn State’s end, the Spartans should watch out for David Goodwin (3g, 3a) and Eric Scheid (4g, 2a), the Nittany Lion’s leading scorers against Michigan State. In addition, Zach Saar will return to his home state of Michigan, coming off his game winning goal against Minnesota last week.
Andrew Sturtz, the leading goal scorer for Penn State with 13 goals, sparked the Nittany Lions to their first win against Michigan State back in December, scoring two goals. To complete the sweep, Eric Scheid scored two goals on the first two shots of the game, winning their last matchup 6-1 and resulted in Hildebrand being pulled halfway through that game.
With offensive depth and consistent production from upperclassman such as Scheid and freshmen such as Sturtz, the Penn State Nittany Lions should have no problem overcoming Hildebrand and the Spartans for their second Michigan State sweep of the season. However, Penn State cannot overlook Cox and the Spartan’s hard work ethic. With another critical weekend series upcoming for the Penn State Nittany Lions, the puck will drop in Munn Ice Arena at 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.
Alissa Devine is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact her, email email@example.com.