Hockey Preview: Michigan State
Joe Murphy, Brian McLaughlin and Zach Kaplan look at this weekend's matchup between the Nittany Lions and the visiting Michigan State Spartans. You can listen to both games at psucomradio.com.
After a month-long hiatus, Penn State will return to the Pegula Ica Arena for a home series against Michigan State. The Nittany Lions are off to their best start in their brief program history, entering this weekend as the No. 4 team in the USCHO poll. Guy Gadowsky’s team split its series with No. 9 Ohio State in Columbus last weekend.
These two teams are trending divergently at the moment. Penn State is off to a 14-2 start (3-1 B1G), while Michigan State is 4-13-1 (0-4 B1G). Penn State ranks first in the conference in goals scored and goals allowed, while Michigan State is last in both categories.
Penn State has been terrific on the defensive end so far this season. This area was a point of emphasis for Gadowsky prior to the 2016-17 campaign. The Lions have always been elite offensively, but their defense has finally caught up this season, as they are now statistically the second-ranked defensive team in the nation.
Kevin Kerr, Trevor Hamilton and Erik Autio have all made major contributions on the back line, while Peyton Jones has been remarkable in net for a freshman. Jones is saving nearly 92 percent of the opponents’ shots, which is good for 18th nationally.
Up front, the Nittany Lions come into this weekend as the second-highest scoring team in college hockey. One of the staples for their offensive potency has been their tremendous depth. Touted freshman Denis Smirnov, despite his struggles against Ohio State, sits at 11th in the country in points scored. Standout sophomore Andrew Sturtz is also the 12th leading goal scorer in college hockey, while senior captain David Goodwin is 25th in assists.
Outside of Sturtz and Smirnov, the Penn State scoring is very balanced. A total of 17 other Nittany Lions have scored this season, while Dylan Richard, Nate Sucese, Chase Berger, and Vince Pedrie have all found the back of the net at least five times. Nikita Pavlychev, Brandon Biro, and Liam Folkes are also dangerous with the puck.
The Spartans’ two top point-scorers are Mason Appleton (17) and Taro Hirose (11). Five other players have eclipsed nine points on the season, so depth has been a plus. Ed Minney will start in the net, with an 88 percent save rate this season.
Penn State is the far superior team in this matchup, and after being away from home for an entire month, expect them to come out with an abundance of energy. We’re beginning to enter the heart of Big Ten play, so anything can happen, but on paper this one looks like an easy sweep for the Nittany Lions.
Will Desautelle is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him email firstname.lastname@example.org.