Pickin’ the Big Ten: Feb. 13-14

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Last week
Drew Claussen: 5-0-0 (1.000)
Paula Weston: 5-0-0 (1.000)

Drew: 62-52-10 (.540)
Paula: 53-60-11 (.472)

That’s what I call love.

This week

Everyone plays. Every series is two games, Friday-Saturday, and it’s all conference action.

Michigan at Minnesota

Drew: I stated that the “Gophers looked like the Gophers again” in my Three Things blog last Sunday and that somehow set off a comment feud between Minnesota and North Dakota fans, so I’ll try to avoid any controversial statements this time around.

Minnesota has been better as of late, but this weekend will be its toughest test since the North Star College Cup (a test that the Gophers failed miserably). The last series between these two teams saw an overtime game and a blowout, but the one common thread in the two contests was that a lot of goals were scored.

Both teams are still very capable of scoring in bunches, so my key to this weekend’s series will be the play of the goaltenders. Adam Wilcox looked better last weekend against Ohio State, where he gave up two goals per game and made some saves that we hadn’t seen him make in a long while. Zach Nagelvoort’s roller coaster season seems to be plateauing out at a high point right now and Michigan has only given up three goals in its last three games with him in net. A split is the logical call here, but I can’t shake a feeling that Minnesota is going to sweep.

Paula: While the teams are playing for Big Ten points, they’re also playing for the Mariucci/Renfrew Trophy, which is awarded annually to the team in this series that bests the other in a given season. This friendly competition began in 1993. Minnesota has won 10 times, while Michigan has claimed the trophy nine times. The Wolverines swept the Gophers earlier this season (Jan. 9-10), making the teams even (3-3-0) since the start of Big Ten hockey play.

Unlike my partner-in-writing, I can shake the feeling that Minnesota will sweep. Both games in this series are televised. Friday’s game starts at 8:00 p.m. and is carried by the Big Ten Network. Saturday’s contest starts at 7:00 p.m. and will be carried by Fox Sports North Plus and Fox Sports Detroit Plus.

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

Penn State at Michigan State

Drew: Penn State has been one of the hottest teams in the country since the calendar turned to 2015 and the Nittany Lions are right in the middle of the Big Ten race. If the Nittany Lions do want to capture the conference crown in only the third year since they went DI, a sweep here is a necessity. Michigan State is tough to sweep, especially at home, but after this weekend the sledding gets tougher for Penn State.

Michigan State is playing pretty well in the new year, also, and the Spartans will probably be happy to be playing a game indoors after last weekend’s debacle. I feel like I write this all the time when it comes to Michigan State, but it’s true; Jake Hildebrand’s play will be key this weekend. He’s going to get a lot of pucks fired at him. If he’s not on, Michigan State doesn’t have the talent to outscore Penn State. I say some love from the hometown fans gets the Spartans a win on Valentines’s Day.

Paula: I’m not sure that many teams have the talent to out-gun the Nittany Lions, so the Spartans will do everything they can to dictate the pace of these games. They’ll also rely on their league-best defense to attempt to stymie Penn State’s high-flying offense. Last weekend, PSU registered its first home Big Ten sweep with 5-2 and 4-1 wins over Wisconsin. The Spartans did not play their best game in a 4-1 loss to Michigan. A month ago, the Nittany Lions took four points from the Spartans at home, with a 2-2 tie and 5-2 win. Both of these games are televised, with Fox Sports Detroit carrying Friday’s 7:00 p.m. start and the Big Ten Network carrying Saturday’s 6:00 p.m. game.

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

Wisconsin at Ohio State

Drew: I was less excited about Wisconsin’s chances during the preseason, but any credibility I gained from that goes right out the window because of how high I was on Ohio State. This is without a doubt a battle of the conference’s two bottom feeders. If this was at Kohl Center, I’d think about predicting a Badgers’ sweep. Considering how their season has gone, the support the Badgers are getting from their fans is amazing; I was presently surprised with the attendance when I went there a couple weeks ago. A lot of teams wouldn’t draw that many amid a season-long struggle. That being said, I think home ice for Ohio State will produce a split this weekend.

Paula: These are the first meetings of the season for these two teams, who will complete their play the final weekend of the regular season (March 13-14). Wisconsin went 3-2-0 against Ohio State last season, including a 5-4 overtime win in the Big Ten tournament. Last weekend, the Badgers scored three goals in two losses to Penn State on the road, while the Buckeyes scored four goals in two road losses to Minnesota. OSU is looking to snap a six-game losing streak while the Badgers are looking for their first Big Ten win of the season. 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 not televised.

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