Series Preview: Michigan State
To say Penn State’s season has been a roller coaster is an understatement as the Nittany Lions have not of won a game since January 12th against Ohio State. Part of the reason for the lack of results can be blamed on the schedule as Penn State had a pair of road series against Michigan and Wisconsin, then a home series against Notre Dame, the top team in the conference.
Penn State has an opportunity to get back to its winning ways against Michigan State, the worst team in the conference. Offense has not been a problem for the Nittany Lions as they have scored 109 goals on the season, scoring five in the past weekend against Notre Dame’s solid defense.
Andrew Sturtz and Nate Sucese are the team’s top two goal scorers and should have a good series against a struggling Michigan State defense. Sucese especially needs to have a good series after only recording an assist in the last weekend series.
Sturtz, on the other hand, will look to build upon his performance against Notre Dame as he scored in both games. His ability to create open shots for his teammates makes Penn State an almost unstoppable offense at times.
Sturtz’s play on the line with Chase Berger has covered up the fact that Denis Smirnov has struggled in the past couple of series. If Smirnov is going to recapture his form from earlier in the season, a Michigan State defense that has allowed 93 goals on the season is a start.
The Spartans do have a great goal scorer in Mitch Lewandowski, who has scored 15 goals so far this season. His ability to get open shots right in front of the net has made it easy for Taro Hirose and Patrick Khodorenko to find him for easy assists.
While all three of those players have recorded at least 20 points on the season, the Spartans do not have many other options offensively outside of that trio. If Michigan State is going to pull the upset, players outside of that trio will need to step in the offensive zone.
The lack of offensive production for Michigan State could turn around as Penn State has surrendered 95 goals this season as the defense for head coach Guy Gadowsky has been in flux. Kevin Kerr’s injury at the start of the season created lines that have struggled with continuity.
Cole Hults and Kris Myllari have been the most consistent defensive pairing for Penn State, but they have even struggled with communication and spacing. Trevor Hamilton has been the best offensive defenseman as he has 18 assists on the season. His play going forward will be key as the Nittany Lions like to fly around in the offensive zone.
The X-factor for the series is the road crowd as the Nittany Lions are 6-7-2 on the road, but the combination of Sturtz, Sucese and Smirnov should be more than enough for Michigan State. Penn State will sweep the series with relative ease before hosting Minnesota next week.
Joseph Esquivel-Murphy is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism and Spanish. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.