WCHA Picks: Jan. 28-29

Minnesota State (8-17-1, 4-13-1 WCHA) at Bemidji State (11-11-2, 5-9-2 WCHA)

Tyler:  Minnesota State had one of the worst power plays in the WCHA, but its clicking since Christmas, converting seven times in 26 attmepts. The Beavers are killing at a league-worst 76.4-percent rate over that stretch but this doesn’t make the Mavericks good enough to sweep anyone on the road. Split.

Brian:  The Mavericks, whose goaltending has been solid in recent weeks, have dominated this series in recent years. MSU has not lost in the last eight meetings between the two schools (7-0-1) and maintains a16-6-2 advantage in the series since BSU became a D-1 program in 1999. The Beavers had last week off after being swept in Denver the weekend before to snap their five-game winning streak. But Minnesota State has just one road win this season (6-3 over Michigan Tech on Nov. 5) and Bemidji State is 8-3-1 at home. I think the Beavers snap the winless streak vs.. the Mavs this weekend but MSU doubles its road win total and picks up a split.

Wisconsin (12-10-2, 7-9-2 WCHA) at No. 18 North Dakota (13-10-2, 9-9-0 WCHA)

Tyler: The Badgers have won five of six but not against any strong teams and their first road win of the year came Jan. 13 at Minnesota State. The Mavericks blanked UW the next night. Also, the Badgers’ power play is failing the past five games (2-for-14). UW’s 1-6-1 road record doesn’t look good going into Grand Forks this weekend. UND sweep

Brian:  The Badgers, who swept UND in Madison in Oct. (5-3, 5-4) have won six of the last 10 meetings overall (6-3-1) and are 6-1-1 in Grand Forks since the 2005-06 season. But Wisconsin is just 1-6-1 on the road in 2011-12 with its only win coming at Minnesota State two weeks ago. Penalty killing has been a staple of success in recent weeks for both UW (82.5 percent in last 13 games) and UND (90 percent in last nine and 83.7 percent overall) but UND’S power play inefficiency lately (5.2 percent in its last five games) is alarming. I think Wisconsin finds a way to pick up a road split.

No. 15 Denver (13-8-3, 8-5-3 WCHA) at Alaska-Anchorage (6-14-2, 3-14-1 WCHA)

Tyler:  The Pioneers got a huge boost when Jason Zucker returned from Las Vegas, racking up five points against Bemidji State. Things are looking even better now with defenseman John Ryder’s and goalie Sam Brittain’s return from injury possibly this weekend. The Seawolves have no offensive punch to match whomever Denver puts between the pipes this weekend. DU sweep

Brian: The Pioneers have won three in a row and may be seeing the returns of goaltender Sam Brittain and defenseman John Ryder this weekend. The Seawolves, who are beginning a six-game homestand, have lost five straight and seven of their last 10 (2-7-1) and are winless in their last six against Denver (0-4-2). UAA’s 10th-ranked WCHA penalty kill (78.5 percent) is a poor match for DU’s top-ranked conference power play (23.6 percent). Denver sweep.

Michigan Tech (11-12-1, 8-7-1 WCHA) at No. 1 Minnesota-Duluth (17-4-3, 11-3-2 WCHA)

Tyler:  Michigan Tech is 3-8 this season away from Houghton and this week, they’re playing at one of the best teams in the county’s barn. The Bulldogs are coming off a series in which they beat Alabama-Huntsville by a goal each night but UMD finished the weekend with 101 shots on goal. UMD sweep

Brian: The Huskies have played well against teams ranked in the top three this season going 2-2-1 in those games. But UMD has won eight of its last 10 meetings (8-2-0) with Michigan Tech, including seven in a row. MTU will be making its first-ever appearance at Amsoil Arena but hasn’t won in Duluth since a 3-2 win over the Bulldogs on Nov. 13, 2009. I’m going to roll with the nation’s best team here. UMD sweep.  

St. Cloud State (10-12-4, 7-8-3 WCHA) vs. No. 3 Minnesota (17-9-1, 13-5-0 WCHA) – Home and home series

Tyler:  The Gophers scored three power play goals in 10 chances when these teams met in November but the Huskies penalty kill was suffering and the Minnesota PP was on top of the country. The power play was a big reason the Gophers opened a big lead against SCSU in that 5-0 win. The way things have gone lately, Minnesota’s PP won’t be as much of a factor as it was the last time against an SCSU penalty kill that’s thwarted 21-of-23 power plays since Dec. 17. But the Huskies are still hurting up front with injuries to Cory Thorson and Jordy Christian, Saturday so look for them to use defensemen on the forward lines. Minnesota has the edge coming in but this is an SCSU team that has found ways to win in the past four series despite injuries. The Huskies are 4-4 since Dec. 16 but have lost twice in OT, a one-goal loss and a two-goal loss with an empty-net goal, all against ranked teams. Split

Brian: This is the second home-and-home series of the season for Minnesota and St. Cloud State as each team won at home in November. For the same to occur this time around, the Gophers must exercise their Friday demons (7-5-0 overall) while the Huskies will have to fend off Minnesota’s Saturday Night Special (10-2-1 overall, 9-0-0 in WCHA play). The Huskies are a significantly more disciplined team now than when the Gophers faced them in November having fallen from top spot in league penalty minutes to a tie for 10th with Nebraska-Omaha since then. This is good for SCSU’s penalty killers who are ranked 11th in the conference while, despite recent struggles, the Gophers’ 22.6 percent power play is good for third in the WCHA. If Minnesota intends to be a significant postseason player, the time is now for them to take steps toward that end and string some wins together. If you need me, I’ll be on that limb over there picking Minnesota to sweep.