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Hardware, streaks and standings — oh my!

It was an interesting weekend in Big Ten hockey for many reasons, not the least of which is that there’s still a deadlock for first place Monday morning.

1. The Spartans capture the Iron D.

To be frank, the outcome of Friday’s game between Michigan State and Michigan in Joe Louis Arena is one of the most surprising things to have happened this season. It wasn’t that the Wolverines lost, nor even that the Spartans were the ones to beat them; the most surprising thing was Michigan State playing the kind of hockey it did early in the season, like a unified team in front of solid goaltending, a poised team that expected to win. That made for an amazing end-to-end game between two fierce rivals. That the Spartans came back late in the third was another surprise — and one that the Wolverines should learn from if they plan to return to the NCAA tournament and advance beyond a game.

Kudos to Michigan State forward senior Matt DeBlouw, whose goal at 3:29 in overtime gave the Spartans the the 3-2 win, and kudos to DeBlouw for scoring the game-winner against the Wolverines in Joe Louis Arena for the second consecutive year. It was nice to see Michigan State senior goaltender Jake Hildebrand look as though he’d returned to fine form, with 40 saves in the game.

2. Tyler Motte keeps scoring.

There’s no question that Michigan’s top line of Kyle Connor, JT Compher and Tyler Motte is the most prolific right now in college hockey. Motte had both goals in Michigan’s loss Friday and another Saturday in UM’s 4-1 win over the Spartans in East Lansing, extending Motte’s goal-scoring streak to nine games. Motte has 25 goals in 25 games this season, with 14 of them coming during this current streak. Motte, a junior, had nine goals in each of his two previous seasons (18 goals in 69 games) and he now leads the nation in goal-scoring. Connor, a freshman, leads the nation in scoring, period (20-24–44) and Compher (10-28–38) is sixth in the nation in scoring and third in assists.

3. No one gains any real ground.

Minnesota beat Penn State Friday, 4-1, doing pretty much the same thing the Spartans did — playing unified hockey with good defense. That gave the Gophers one day alone at the top of the Big Ten standings, because the Nittany Lions won 5-3 the following night and the Wolverines beat the Spartans. That makes the top of the standings and third place a complete wash. Only the Spartans improved their lot a very little, creeping to within three points of Ohio State. But the Buckeyes with their 12 points have two games in hand on the Spartans with their nine, and the last-place Badgers have six points and also have two games in hand over Michigan State.

One powerful lesson that should be taken from this weekend for two especially high-scoring teams is that all of that offense is relatively useless against a really, really solid defense. Seriously, if either the Wolverines or Nittany Lions could completely solidify their blue lines, they would be pretty close to unstoppable.

Pickin’ the Big Ten: Feb. 5-6

There are two B1G series this week. First, how Drew Claussen and I are doing with the picks:

Last week
Drew: 4-4-0 (.500)
Paula: 2-6-0 (.250)

Season
Drew: 64-39-15 (.606)
Paula: 67-36-15 (.631)

This week

The Wolverines and Spartans face off and Penn State travels to Minnesota.

Michigan vs. Michigan State

Drew: Congratulations to Michigan State on ending its long winless streak last weekend, but I can’t pick the Spartans to win a game this weekend. Michigan’s offense is clicking at an unreal pace right now, especially its first line. The Wolverines may run into some trouble if they meet a strong defensive team later this season, but that won’t be this weekend. Michigan sweep.

Paula: Michigan and Michigan State will play for the hardware in Joe Louis Arena Friday night, and while I love the concept, I really wish I liked the trophy itself more. No matter. What counts are the points, and the Wolverines have a chance to break their first-place deadlock with Minnesota in this two-game set. Last weekend, the Spartans split on the road with Ohio State, winning 4-2 Friday and losing 2-1 Saturday, but with six points, Michigan State is still tied with Wisconsin for last place in the Big Ten. Michigan swept Penn State last weekend, a 7-4 win Thursday in Pegula Arena and 6-3 win in Madison Square Garden Saturday. Drew is right about Michigan’s offense, which leads the nation with an average of five goals per game and that line of Kyle Connor, JT Compher and Tyler Motte is the most prolific in the country, with 51 goals among them. Friday’s game is the 54th meeting between the teams in JLA — but I don’t think that past records matter much this weekend. Friday’s 7:30 p.m. start is on Fox Sports Detroit. Saturday’s rematch in Munn Ice Arena begins at 5:00 p.m. and is carried by the Big Ten Network.

Drew’s picks: Michigan 4-2, 6-1.
Paula’s picks: Michigan 5-2, 5-2.

Penn State at Minnesota

Drew: This series features two teams looking to put last weekend in the rear-view mirror. Paula got a chance to see the Nittany Lions play so she would have a better insight on them, but the Gophers looked bad at the North Star Cup. Minnesota’s play was uninspired and the Gophers flat-out struggled to score at even strength. I could see Penn State picking up a sweep this weekend, but I think Eric Shierhorn steals a game for Minnesota.

Paula: The Nittany Lions looked good in their 6-3 loss to Michigan Saturday — as good as anyone can look until the Wolverines’ overwhelming third period takes control of a game, that is. Minnesota lost 4-2 to Bemidji State and 3-2 to Minnesota State and coach Don Lucia said it all when he said that the Gophers don’t win when they only manage two goals in a game. These teams split in State College earlier this season, with the Nittany Lions taking the first game 3-2 in overtime (Jan. 8) and the Gophers winning 7-1 the following night. Penn State enters this series with a three-game losing streak, but it was only in the first of those games that the Nittany Lions were held to a single goal; PSU scored seven in two losses against the Wolverines. Friday’s game begins at 7:00 p.m. and is televised by the Big Ten Network. Saturday’s game begins at 4:00 p.m. and is carried by Fox Sports North.

Drew’s picks: Penn State 4-3, Minnesota 2-1.
Paula’s picks: Penn State 3-2, Minnesota 4-2.

Questions about the B1G?

Dear faithful readers,

I have an interview for next week’s column scheduled with Brad Traviolia, Deputy Commissioner for the Big Ten Conference, tomorrow afternoon. If you’d be so kind to post any questions that you have about Big Ten hockey or college hockey as a whole in the comments section and I’ll try to ask as many as time allows for.

Thanks,
Drew

Michigan rolls, Wisconsin revers and Minnesota falters

Greetings from the Xcel Energy Center press box, where Minnesota State just completed a 3-2 victory over Minnesota (more on the Gophers later). Here’s how the B1G teams did this weekend:

  • Michigan swept Penn State in a Thursday-Saturday series
  • Wisconsin swept Alaska-Fairbanks at home
  • Ohio State and Michigan State split their series in Columbus
  • Minnesota dropped both of its games at the North Star College Cup in St. Paul. Bemidji State beat the Gophers 4-2 on Saturday and Minnesota State defeated them 3-2 on Sunday.

Here are my three thoughts from the weekend:

1. Michigan’s “CCM line” is legit

The Wolverines’ top line of JT Compher, Kyle Connor and Tyler Motte had another great weekend. The trio combined for four goals and seven assists during Thursday’s game and had three goals and two assists at Madison Square Garden on Saturday.

Compher scored twice, the second being a late empty-netter, during Michigan’s four-goal third period on Saturday and helped complete the comeback from down 3-2 after two periods.

Side note; Senior Justin Selman scored the game-winning goal on Saturday. Here’s a quote Red Berenson gave me about Selman when I talked to him last week that I didn’t put in the column:

“It’s been a process for Justin. He came in with high credentials and had trouble living up to them — with injuries — but we saw the good things, we just couldn’t keep him healthy or keep him confident or keep him playing well for a period of time. His second year was worse and it looked like he was falling off of his game, but it came around last year. He ended up on a line with Zach Hyman and Dylan Larkin, and you know where Dylan Larkin is now. He really started to show what we though he could show when we recruited him, so good for him. The last half of the year last year was a really strong finish for Justin and now he’s off to a good start. He’s got a good role on our power play and penalty killing and a top line, so I’d say he’s becoming the player that we thought he would be.”

2. Wisconsin had a nice bounce-back weekend

The Badgers, who got thoroughly embarrassed by Minnesota last weekend, rebounded with two nice wins over Alaska this weekend. Now, Alaska isn’t one of the elite teams but a sweep of any team is an impressive feat for the Badgers right now.

The Badgers won a defensive-minded game 4-3 on Friday where they only gave up 23 shots on goal and came back on Saturday with a four-goal third period to win 5-2.

The sweep doesn’t really change my opinion of the Badgers, I still think they’ll fight with Michigan State for the No. 6 spot in the conference, but their scoring and goaltending is good enough to be a thorn in the side of the top three down the stretch. However, consistency is still Wisconsin’s main enemy.

3. Minnesota had another rough weekend at the North Star College Cup

After rattling off five wins in a row the Gophers came into the North Star College Cup on a little bit of a roll. Said roll is now over after losses to Bemidji State and Minnesota State. The Gophers have now dropped their last four games at the tournament after winning the cup in a shootout its inaugural year.

Minnesota simple struggles to score at times. They looked awful during five-on-five play this weekend and the Gophers’ losses would have been worse if the power play didn’t connect as often as it did.

The team doesn’t have to look far for some motivation, however. Last year’s team was in a much worse spot heading into the North Star Cup and went on a run to win the Big Ten regular-season and postseason crown after its two losses in St. Paul.

 

Pickin’ the Big Ten: Jan. 28-31

It’s hard to believe there are only seven weeks left in the regular season, but here we are at the end of January and Jayson Moy has Bracketology if you want to speculate about what happens come late March. First, though, how Drew Claussen and I are doing with our picks:

Last week
Drew: 3-1-0 (.750)
Paula: 3-1-0 (.750)

Season
Drew: 60-35-15 (.614)
Paula: 65-30-15 (.659)

This week

There are two Big Ten series this week — including a game in the Big Apple — one nonconference series and the North Star College Cup.

Michigan vs. Penn State

Drew: Both of these teams have been playing pretty good hockey so far in 2016, so this series should be an interesting one. I see Penn State having an advantage for its home game on Thursday and Saturday’s game in NYC should be more of a toss up. I predict a split, which will clump the Gophers, Wolverines and Nittany Lions closer together near the top of the conference standings.

Paula: The Wolverines bring a six-game unbeaten streak (5-0-1) into this series, which has the teams meeting in Pegula Arena Thursday night and Madison Square Garden Saturday. Last week, Michigan defeated the U.S. Under-18 team 5-2 (Jan. 21) in exhibition play. Penn State split a road series with Ohio State last weekend, a 3-2 overtime win Friday and a 5-1 loss Saturday. The Nittany Lions are 6-3-0 all-time against the Wolverines, including a 3-1-0 record at home and a 1-0-0 record at neutral sites. Michigan’s Cutler Martin will miss this entire series because of actions during a fight at the end of UM’s 8-6 win over Ohio State Jan. 17, and his teammate, Dexter Dancs, will miss Thursday’s game for the same reason. Both games begin at 7:00 p.m. Thursday’s is untelevised but the Big Ten Network is carrying Saturday’s game as part of Super Saturday, which also features a Michigan-Penn State men’s basketball game earlier in the day in MSG. Isn’t it great that hockey is the prime time event?

Drew’s picks: Penn State 5-3, Michigan 6-3.
Paula’s picks: Penn State 5-4, Michigan 5-4.

Michigan State at Ohio State

Drew: This is the perfect opportunity for Ohio State to keep the momentum from its last win over Penn State going. I wouldn’t be surprised if Michigan State snapped its losing streak this weekend, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if the Buckeyes extended it two more games. The Spartans have been down in the dumps since early December and needed overtime to win an exhibition game last weekend. I’m picking Ohio State to sweep at home.

Paula: I couldn’t agree more. The Buckeyes are playing well, but their last game was a home loss to Penn State. The Spartans are not playing especially well, but their last game was a home exhibition win over the U.S. Under-18 team. Michigan State was 3-1-0 against Ohio State last season, including a split in the Schottenstein Center. Ohio State’s Josh Healey will sit out this series because of a two-game suspension he’s serving following his contact-to-the-head penalty early in the third period of last Saturday’s loss to Penn State. Friday’s game begins at 6:30 p.m. and is carried by the Big Ten Network. Saturday’s game starts at 7:00 p.m. and is untelevised.

Drew’s picks: Ohio State 4-2, 3-1.
Paula’s picks: Ohio State 4-2, 2-1.

Alaska at Wisconsin

Drew: Both of these teams have some quality wins this season, but both have also struggled to string wins together. That fact is going to lead to me picking a split. The only question is which way is it going to go? There’s a 90 percent chance I pick that wrong.

Paula: The Nanooks are 2-3-1 in January, having split last weekend with Northern Michigan, a 3-2 overtime win and 5-3 loss. This series against Wisconsin marks the third of three road series for the Nanooks. Wisconsin is winless in the new year (0-5-1) and the Badgers got thumped by Minnesota at home last weekend, 4-0 and 9-2. These teams last met in the Kendall Hockey Classic Oct. 10, 2014, a 1-0 win for Alaska. Wisconsin will be without Aidan Cavallini for Friday’s game and Eddie Wittchow for the series plus an additional game. Each was suspended for separate incidents in last Saturday’s game against Minnesota. This is a Friday-Saturday series, with both games beginning at 7:00 p.m. and Saturday’s game carried by The Wisconsin Channel. Drew has more faith in the tenacious Badgers this weekend than I do.

Drew’s picks: Wisconsin 4-3, Alaska 5-3.
Paula’s picks: Alaska 3-2, 3-2.

Minnesota vs. Bemidji State and St. Cloud State or Minnesota State

Drew: This should be a fun tournament, with three of the four teams in the field being conference leaders. The one team that isn’t leading its conference, Bemidji State, is the defending tournament champion. It’ll be important for Minnesota not to look past Bemidji State to a possible rematch with St. Cloud State because the Beavers could definitely take down the Gophers. I’m pretty sure I’ve predicted the North Star Cup horribly wrong in both previous years, so take this one with a grain of salt.

Paula: This is a great field. Last weekend, Bemidji State played two overtime games against Ferris State, a 3-2 loss and 1-1 tie. The Beavers are 5-2-1 to open 2016. Minnesota State swept Lake Superior State at home last weekend, 8-0 and 5-1, and St. Cloud beat Western Michigan 8-2 and 7-3. Between the Gophers, the Mavericks and the Huskies, there is potential for a lot of scoring in this tournament. The Gophers play the Beavers at 4:00 p.m. Friday and then either the Mavericks or Huskies at either 1:00 p.m. or 4:00 p.m. Saturday. Either way, whenever the games, Fox Sports North is covering them.

Drew’s picks: Minnesota over Bemidji State 4-1 and St. Cloud State over Minnesota State 4-3. MSU over BSU 5-2 and SCSU over Minnesota 4-3 for the championship.
Paula’s picks: It defies logic, but I’m picking the Gophers in both games, no matter who they play Saturday. Minnesota 5-2, 5-4.

The Gophers roll, the Buckeyes rebound and the Spartans get a win that doesn’t count

Both of the Big Ten’s Michigan teams played the U.S. Under-18 squad in exhibition this week, giving everyone else a chance to climb the standings. One team did exactly that.

1. The Gophers rolled over the Badgers.

For the second week in a row, Wisconsin failed to take a single point from an opponent in a two-game set, which is especially bad news for the Badgers now that Big Ten play is underway. Minnesota, though, took advantage of a struggling opponent and earned six points in the process, surging ahead of the idle Wolverines with whom they were tied for first place entering the weekend. Minnesota has 24 points to Michigan’s 18, although the Wolverines have two games in hand on the Gophers.

Not only did Minnesota beat Wisconsin in two games, but the Gophers outscored the Badgers 13-2 in the series, shutting out Wisconsin 4-0 the first night. In Friday’s win, freshman Eric Schierhorn’s made 29 saves in his third shutout of the season. Nine different Gophers accounted for the 13 goals in two games, and junior defenseman Michael Brodzinski registered his first career hat trick in Saturday’s contest. Brodzinski has eight goals in 23 games this season, two short of his offensive production in 62 games in his first two seasons.

With the wins, the Gophers extend their win streak to five games, and Minnesota is showing signs of coming together as a team at the perfect time of the season. The Badgers’ winless streak is now six games (0-5-1).

2. The Buckeyes will not be ignored.

Ohio State began the second half by capturing the Florida College Classic title just before the new year began and used those wins to propel them to a five-game unbeaten streak (3-0-2), but an 8-6 loss to Michigan Jan. 17 snapped that, and the Buckeyes fell in overtime to the Nittany Lions on Friday night, 3-2.

Saturday was another story, entirely. Senior captain Craig Dalrymple scored at 3:30 in the first period and Ohio State went on to a 5-1 win over Penn State, with five different Buckeyes scoring in the contest. In fact, the Buckeyes — like the Gophers — like to spread that scoring around; six different Buckeyes accounted for the seven total goals that OSU scored in the weekend, and with that offensive output, the Buckeyes improve to an average of 3.32 goals per game (14th nationally). Of course, they’re still allowing 3.18 goals per game and are among the bottom third of teams on defense nationally, but so are four of the six B1G teams, so that may not be a factor in conference play down the stretch.

In the second half, the Buckeyes have impressed me as a highly skilled and fast team. Against Penn State, OSU may have proven that it is a team to contend with in conference play.

3. The Spartans win. Finally. Sort of.

Heading into this weekend’s road series against Ohio State, Michigan State has lost eight consecutive games — at least on the record. Saturday night, the Spartans held off the U.S. Under-18 team in overtime, 3-2, and even though the win doesn’t count, the reward for effort must feel like the proverbial shot in the arm that Michigan State has needed.

“It was nice to find a way to win,” is what coach Tom Anastos said after the game. “It was a good game and given how it ended, it was something we needed.”

Sophomore Ed Minney had 36 saves in the game, and junior Thomas Ebbing had the game-winner on the power play at 3:09 in OT.

How tough a season has it been for the Spartans? Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis told the Lansing State Journal last week that he’s “spending hours watching over programs that need some recalibration, and hockey is one of those.” Hollis said, “I think we need to continue the dialogue to save the sport of college hockey the best that we can in the future.”

When an AD goes on the record to discuss concerns about a given program, that program is struggling, indeed.

Maybe the win over the Developmental Program team can help the Spartans earn a win that counts. Michigan State has one win in its last 16 games.

Pickin’ the Big Ten: Jan. 22-23

There are two Big Ten series this weekend. First, a peek at how Drew Claussen and I are doing so far with our picks.

Last week
Drew: 4-1-1 (.750)
Paula: 4-1-1 (.750)

Season
Drew: 57-34-15 (.608)
Paula: 62-29-15 (.656)

This week

Both Michigan teams play in exhibition against the U.S. Under-18 team this week. On Thursday night, the Wolverines beat the youngsters from the Developmental Program 5-2 and the Spartans host the lads Saturday night.

There are two B1G series this week, as Ohio State hosts Penn State and Minnesota travels to Wisconsin. Both the Nittany Lions and the Golden Gophers will have the chance to pull ahead of Michigan — currently tied with Minnesota — in league standings this weekend.

Minnesota at Wisconsin

Drew: The last time the Gophers swept Wisconsin at the Kohl Center was in 2005-06. What’s interesting is that Minnesota returned the favor after the Badgers picked up a sweep at Mariucci Arena earlier that season. There’s something else memorable about that particular season — more specifically the way it ended — but we won’t bring that up again. Long story short, I think the Badgers will find a way to pick up at least a point this weekend. I’m going to pick a split because predicting a tie is no fun, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the series ended with the Gophers winning one and the other ending in a tie.

Paula: Last weekend, the Badgers dropped two to Penn State on the road, marking the first time this season that Wisconsin failed to take at least a point in a two-game series. Minnesota swept Michigan State at home. The Badgers and Gophers can’t agree on how many times they’ve met; according to UW records, these will be the 275th and 276th games all-time, but according to Minnesota records, Friday’s game is No. 274. Also according to the Gophers, they lead this series 161-89-23. Last season, Minnesota was 2-0-2 against Wisconsin with the Badgers picking up a pair of extra shootout points. Friday’s game begins at 8:00 p.m. and is televised by the Big Ten Network, while Saturday’s 7:00 p.m. start will be carried by the American Sports Network.

Drew’s picks: Wisconsin 3-2, Minnesota 5-2.
Paula’s picks: Minnesota 4-2, 4-2.

Penn State at Ohio State

Drew: Ohio State will be down two forwards for Friday’s contest because of suspensions at the end of last Sunday’s game against Michigan. Not having those two available isn’t ideal for Steve Rohlik, but I don’t think it will affect the series too much. While we might not get as many of the post-whistle shenanigans, I expect this series to be a high-scoring one, just like last weekend’s Michigan-Ohio State’s games. If Penn State can keep the goal totals low, the Nittany Lions will leave Columbus with the majority of the conference points. If Ohio State can continue scoring like it has been since returning from Florida, it can find some success. I’m thinking split.

Paula: Last weekend, the Nittany Lions swept the visiting Badgers, outscoring Wisconsin 8-4 but needing overtime to win Friday’s 4-3 contest. Meanwhile in a home-and-home series, the Buckeyes scored 11 goals against the Wolverines — enough to at least win one, conventional wisdom would say — but came away with two points in a 5-5 tie at home with the subsequent shootout point plus an 8-6 road loss. Freshman forwards Dakota Joshua and Brendon Kearney were the two Buckeyes given DQs at the end of the 8-6 game; each has a goal this season. OSU is 7-3-0 versus PSU all-time, including a record of 4-1-0 in 2014-15. I am going against conventional wisdom with my picks, based on what I saw of Ohio State last weekend. Games are Friday and Saturday at 7:00 p.m. and neither is televised.

Drew’s picks: Penn State 3-2, Ohio State 6-4.
Paula’s picks: Ohio State 4-3, 5-4.

Two sweeps, a lot of goals and some fisticuffs highlight the weekend in the B1G

Greetings from the frozen tundra that Minnesota turned into this weekend. ‘Twas a perfect weekend to park yourself on the couch and never leave. All six Big Ten teams squared off against each other this weekend. Here’s how things played out:

  • Minnesota swept Michigan State at home
  • Penn State swept Wisconsin at home
  • Ohio State and Michigan tied on Friday in Columbus with the Buckeyes winning the shootout. Michigan rebounded with a win on Sunday in Ann Arbor

Here are my three thoughts from the weekend:

1. The standings are starting to take shape

Now that we have a decently-large sample size, it’s a little bit easier to speculate on which teams will be fighting for the league’s championship come March. In my eyes, Penn State, Michigan and Minnesota are the clear-cut favorites to be in the picture. Ohio State will probably end up a couple points behind the big-three and Wisconsin and Michigan State will occupy the cellar.

Next weekend will be an interesting one in the Big Ten, not because two of the top teams are going agains each other, but because Minnesota and Penn State both go on the road to face Wisconsin and Ohio State respectively. Both Michigan schools will play U.S Under-18 once Team next weekend.

2. Michigan State is struggling mightily 

It can’t be fun to be a Michigan State fan right now. The Spartans played what was probably one of their better games of the season on Saturday, and they lost 3-1 to the Gophers. Michigan State is now 5-17-2 (1-7-0 B1G) and has lost eight games in a row.

I knew Michigan State wasn’t going to be an offensive juggernaut this season, but I did not expect the Spartans to struggle this much. After losing in overtime twice at the Great Lakes Invitational, the Spartans have given up 15 and eight goals in their first two conference series of 2016. Michigan State had a strong spring last year and ended up with a 17-16-2 record, but considering the team only won 11 and 14 games the two season prior to that, you have to wonder how safe Tom Anastos’ job is.

3. Michigan’s defense still scares me

The Ohio State and Michigan home-and-home series was easily the most entertaining one in the conference this weekend, in my opinion. Friday’s game featured multiple late third-period goals, including one in the final 10 seconds to send the game to overtime. Saturday’s bout, a 8-6 Michigan victory, actually ended with the two teams exchanging some pleasantries.

Michigan took four of six point from the Buckeyes, but the Wolverines have now given up 10 or more goals on a weekend in half of their Big Ten series so far. Even with the high number of goals given up, Michigan has still managed to get good results. A team cannot win in the postseason with offense alone, however.

The Wolverines schedule is about to become more difficult, too, not only because of the opponents but also the fact that the they won’t play at home much the rest of the way. Nine of Michigan’s remaining 13 games will be played away from Yost Ice Arena. That being said, if the race does come down to the final two weeks the Wolverines play three of their last four contests at home.

Pickin’ the Big Ten: Jan. 15-17

After last weekend, it looks to me as though the Big Ten standings may be shaping up along the lines of how they’ll appear at the end of the season. I could be wrong, of course. I’m often wrong.

Let’s see how Drew Claussen and I are doing with the picks.

Last week
Drew: 3-2-1 (.583)
Paula: 5-0-1 (.917)

Season
Drew: 53-33-14 (.600)
Paula: 58-28-14 (.650)

Everyone plays this weekend and it’s all conference action.

Michigan vs. Ohio State

Drew: Both of these teams are playing well right now. One, Michigan, is obviously playing better, but this should be an entertaining series. It’ll be interesting to see what the day off does to the team that wins on Friday. Sunday games can get weird sometimes. I still remember a Minnesota-Canisius Sunday afternoon matinee where the Gophers scored 12 seconds into the first and then both teams proceeded not to score for the rest of the game. There’s no denying how good Michigan has looked since its 3-2 loss to Minnesota (Dec. 12), and the Wolverines may be able to pull off the sweep this weekend. I’m going to pick a split, however, and am going to use some George-Costanza wisdom and go away from my mentality of picking the home teams to win in a home-and-home series.

Paula: Once upon a time in the late 1990s and early 2000s, this was a fun, contentious rivalry, fueled both by that irrational Michigan-Ohio State mutual hatred society — so weird to those of us who have lived in both states but who are not from either — and that brief period of time when the Buckeyes were consistently competitive. There were penalties, there was name-calling, it was … heavenly. Now, though, the rivalry is a bit muted because of OSU’s lack of recent success. That doesn’t mean that these games won’t be intense. Each team has a four-game unbeaten streak on the line, 4-0 for Michigan and 3-0-1 for Ohio State. Michigan leads this all-time series 78-34-12 and leads by roughly the same margin both in Columbus (34-17-5) and Ann Arbor (39-14-7). Michigan is 8-1-1 against Ohio State in their last 10 meetings, including a 3-1-0 record last season. The teams split their last home-and-home series, each winning in its own arena. Friday’s game in Columbus begins at 6:30 p.m. and is carried by Fox Sports Detroit; Sunday’s rematch in Ann Arbor begins at 5:00 p.m. and is televised by both Fox Sports Detroit and SportsTime Ohio.

Drew’s picks: Michigan 4-1, Ohio State 4-3.
Paula’s picks: Michigan 3-2, 5-3.

Michigan State at Minnesota

Drew: This is a good measuring stick series for Minnesota. If the Gophers want to be a team that has some postseason probability, they need to dispose of a team that can’t find a way to win as of late. Historically, even Minnesota teams that are better than this year’s have had trouble doing that (see the games against Wisconsin last season). For Michigan State fans, there’s just not a whole lot to be positive about right now. I do believe this games will be close, but I’m going to pick a Minnesota sweep. That may be because I’m slightly scared to pick a wrong-way split, too.

Paula: At this point, I think picking a Minnesota sweep is a sound thing. If the Spartans are to take points away from this weekend, I think they’ll do so Friday night. The Golden Gophers seem to be a team that applies lessons learned Friday night to Saturday games. The Spartans are looking to snap a six-game losing streak, having last recorded a win Dec. 11 against Wisconsin, and Michigan State is 0-9-1 in its last 10 games. The Gophers are coming off a road split with Penn State, with a 3-2 overtime loss Jan. 8 and a 7-1 win the following night. Minnesota is 5-5-0 in its last 10 and four of those games have gone to overtime — with two OT wins and two OT losses. The Gophers are 107-44-15 all-time against the Spartans and 6-1-3 in the last 10 meetings. Minnesota was 2-1-1 against Michigan State in 2014-2015. Friday’s game begins at 8:00 p.m. and is the second half of the Fox Sports Detroit double-header; the game is also carried by Fox Sports North Plus and SportsTime Ohio. Saturday’s game starts at 7:30 p.m. and is carried by the Big Ten Network.

Drew’s picks: Minnesota 4-2, 3-2.
Paula’s picks: Minnesota 3-2, 4-1.

Wisconsin at Penn State

Drew: Wisconsin has gotten points out of all three of its Big Ten series so far this season. That is, considering where they were last year, quite an accomplishment for the Badgers. That streak will be put to the test this weekend as the Badgers go into a tough building and play a team that wants to put its last game in the rearview mirror. I think Penn State gets back on track this weekend and picks up a couple Ws.

Paula: While it defies conventional wisdom, I think the Badgers will get at least a point this weekend and most likely on Saturday night. Wisconsin took two points from visiting Ohio State last weekend with a tie and the extra shootout point. The Nittany Lions split with Minnesota at home. Penn State took all four meetings between the teams in 2014-2015. Both of these games are televised as well. Friday’s 6:30 p.m. start will be covered by the Big Ten Network, while Saturday’s 6:00 p.m. game is carried by ESPNews.

Drew’s picks: Penn State 5-3, 6-3.
Paula’s picks: Penn State 4-2, Wisconsin 3-2.

An undeniable offense, the ability to learn and tenacity

After the first full weekend of Big Ten play in 2016, we may be getting a glimpse of a finishing order. The weekend was a very good gauge for every team in the league.

1. Michigan’s offense is undeniable.

If the Wolverines falter in the second half, it won’t be because Michigan can’t score goals. Michigan begins the week leading the nation in scoring offense again after beating Michigan State 9-2 and 6-3 — and in neither game did the Spartans ever really threaten to derail the Wolverines. Writers throw around the word “explosive” when referring to the offensive output of many teams, but in Michigan’s case, it’s warranted. In the first period of the 9-2 road win, Michigan scored its first three goals in the span of a minute and 21 seconds, and those goals included the tying goal, the game-winning goal and one for good measure. Then late in the period, Michigan added two more 43 seconds apart to take a 5-2 lead after one.

In each win, the Spartans scored first. Even though Michigan State came back to make it a 5-3 game late in the second period of Saturday’s game in Ann Arbor, there was no doubt that Michigan’s deep offense would allow the Spartans to catch up. Eight different Wolverines scored, including two defensemen. Steve Racine looked good in net for UM and the Wolverines kept the Spartans’ shots to 53 for the weekend.

2. Minnesota is a team that learns from mistakes.

Against a single conference opponent, the Golden Gophers learn quickly from mistakes made the first night they play. Minnesota began its Big Ten season with a home sweep of Ohio State (Dec. 4-5) and then split its next two B1G series on the road, first against Michigan (Dec. 11-12) and this past weekend against Penn State. Against Michigan, the Gophers lost 8-3 on a Friday night before coming from behind in Saturday’s contest to limit that explosive Michigan offense and win 3-2.

Against Penn State, Minnesota came from behind in Friday’s 3-2 loss to tie the contest in the middle of the third period, but PSU’s Vince Pedrie scored the game-winning goal for the Nittany Lions at 3:57 in OT. By Saturday afternoon’s game, the Gophers had gotten past whatever stymied their offense early Friday night; Minnesota led 2-0 after the first, 3-0 after the second and won the game 7-1. Incidentally, Pedrie had the only goal for Penn State in that loss.

3. Ohio State is awake and Wisconsin is tenacious.

The Buckeyes are undefeated (3-0-1) in their last four, dating back to their Dec. 28 win over Boston College in the Florida College Classic and including their road weekend against Wisconsin, where they took four of six points with a 2-0 win and 4-4 tie. That’s a good story, and kudos to OSU junior Christian Frey on his third career shutout, all of which have come this season.

There’s another equally compelling story here, though, and that’s the tenacity of a Wisconsin team that is fighting hard and playing to the best of its ability. After being shut out Friday, the Badgers came from behind twice to eventually tie the game 4-4, and Wisconsin prevailed in the shootout for the extra point. The story here is Wisconsin’s refusal to be completely defeated. With the exception of their trip to Boston in October in which the Badgers lost to both Boston College and Boston University, the Badgers have been swept by no single opponent in a single weekend. That includes a 1-3-2 record against ranked teams during a six-game stretch Nov. 6 through Dec. 5 — and that win was over North Dakota — and a 1-3-2-1 record in Big Ten play.

Points every weekend is not a bad path to redemption.

P.S.

Detroit’s 2-1 win over Anaheim Sunday night featured alumni from seven CCHA teams, and Notre Dames Riley Sheahan had the game-winning goal for the Red Wings at 16:16 in the third. (If you watched the game, you saw that Sheahan scored what looked like a goal in the first period, with the puck hitting the net camera and going right back through the netting.) Sheahan played last night on an all-CCHA line along with Spartan Justin Abdelkader and Wolverine Luke Glendening. The game was a good one and hearing all the CCHA names — including one of my personal favorites, Bowling Green’s Kevin Bieksa — was a nostalgic pleasure and a reminder of how much talent came out of that now-defunct league.

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