Sweeping, clogging the standings and winning one, finally

With a month to go, everything just got much more interesting in the Big Ten.

1. Six points makes a big difference.

The Golden Gophers and Spartans each swept their conference series at home this past weekend, and those sweeps did as much to help define the losing teams as to define the conference standings. In each case, the winners defeated a team above them in the standings, teams that have been tearing up the league in the second half and teams that have been able to make up for defensive deficiencies with high offensive outputs. Minnesota kept Michigan — the top offense in the country — to two goals on the weekend, delivering the first shutout loss of the season for the Wolverines Saturday night. Michigan State did the same thing against Penn State, keeping the Nittany Lions to two goals in the series with a shutout Friday night, the first such loss of the season for PSU. We all knew that inconsistency in net would be something that could bite the Wolverines and Nittany Lions — any team in this league, really — in NCAA play, but it’s something to contend with now as well, especially since Minnesota’s Adam Wilcox is looking more confident and Michigan State’s Jake Hildebrand remains as steady as ever.

2. Four teams are eyeing the regular-season championship.

This is fun. With their sweep of the Wolverines, the Gophers played themselves into a two-way tie for first place, each team with 24 points. With their sweep of the Nittany Lions, the Spartans tied themselves with Penn State for second place, each team with 22 points. All four teams have played the same number of conference games. Michigan has series remaining against Penn State and Michigan State; Minnesota has two series remaining against PSU and a series versus Michigan State. While no one has an easy schedule remaining, Michigan State does play Wisconsin twice while Penn State plays Minnesota twice and Michigan once. The next month will be very interesting, indeed.

3. Finally, a win.

Wisconsin registered its first Big Ten win of the season Saturday, coming from behind twice to beat Ohio State, 3-2. Adam Rockwood had the game-winning goal for the Badgers at 15:41 in the third, and Joel Rumpel made 28 saves in the win. The Badgers have been this close a number of times in the second half, and the weekend split with the Buckeyes puts Wisconsin two points behind Ohio State. They’re still in last place, but only just — and both UW and OSU may play spoiler yet to those four teams ahead of them vying for fist place.

63 COMMENTS

  1. After attending Tech in the late seventies it is GREAT to see “old time hockey” :-)) again!!  Mel was always a class act on and off the ice when he played at Tech.  Mel was known as a very good ‘recruiting guy’ at Michigan.  It’s obvious from the way the team is playing that he is also a very good coach behind the bench.  The biggist differences:  he always stressed tough practices as a player, I’m sure that is part of it.  He also does a great job of getting good line matchups and working his talent pool onto the ice when the opposition is tired or their weaker players are on the ice.  Great job Mel !!  We are all routing for you and the team.  For the players . . Work your a$$ off at practice, it has great benifits.

  2. There was a lot to like about Saturday evening. The hockey helmet division delivered a clean sweep to the ugly/football helmet division.

  3. Credit where credit is due. The Spartans now have TWO sweeps this season. That is the most in at least four seasons. The boys played the best they have all season. Looked good. But one glaring problem I saw: Over 5 minutes (both games combined) of PSU having an empty net, and no MSU EN goal. That is a problem.
    So now, On (to) Wisconsin. You like the play on words there Wisco?

    • Decatur I was actually a little more upset with MSU being obsessed with getting the ENG, given the situation. If it were a 6×6 situation (5 on 4 skaters) there’s a little less room for PSU to set up shop on potential tying goal. But as it was a 5×5, MSU should have chipped it out into the neutral zone, instead of icing it (4 times in 2 minutes?), which resulted in some really tired legs before the final buzzer.

    • If that is your largest problem, you are doing well. Remember when the other teams pulls their goalie it is not necessary to score, just not let the opposition score.

      • True Sat. BUT there was no cohesive effort to work the puck down ice and put it in. Just random length of ice clears which did no good.

        • I didn’t see the end of the Saturday game as I was at the Minnesota/Michigan game. I generally think that trying to score on the open net is overrated and that more emphasis should be put on keeping the puck out of your own net rather than scoring, but I agree with you that just icing the puck repeatedly is not a good defensive strategy.

          • Decatur and Sat, you got Hildebrand or Wilcox in net and you are in a bind – or even think you are – ice it…Whatever it takes to get the “W”…

          • I agree – You are much better off keeping the puck out of your zone. Why ice it? All it does is give the opposing team a faceoff in your end and a chance to score. If an open net chance comes up, take it. Get it into the neutral zone or their defensive zone.

  4. So much for the big sheet of ice won’t be a factor for MI theory. They are gifted offensively, but their deficiencies on defense were magnified on the big sheet.

    • It wasn’t a factor at all. Are you stoopid? Did ya see all the empty seats? TONS! I suppose you will start with ‘we only recruit in MN’ thing now?

      • Really? How so? What does empty seats have to do with my comment? I made it pretty clear that Michigan’s defense was exposed on the big sheet, as it has most of the year.

          • You need to give me more of a hint that you are being sarcastic. Since you have always been pro-Gophers, I was wondering where all that negativity came from. I guess the joke’s on me.

    • Brian, did you hear that there will be renovations to Mariucci soon to replace the cooling system and rumor has it that they are going to remove the Olympic ice sheet and replace it with a standard 185X85 hockey sheet, so they of all things can add more seats. Stupid move, if they go through with it.

      • That rumor is double-sided. One side you alluded to and the other says they will replace the cooling system and continue with an Olympic sheet as the logistics of additional seats is too expensive.

        Not that we have a say in the matter but, like you, I’d rather keep the Olympic sheet. It highlights the skills (skating, puck movement, speed, etc….) Lucia recruits. Don’t change a good/great thing.

      • I agree with your posting about leaving the olympic sheet at Mariucci. Isn’t the standard North American ice hockey rink size 200′ x 85′ ? (not 185 x 85).

        • You may be right. I know that there is a lot of variation on the length between 185 and 200, but the width is generally 85 on the standard sheet. In any case I don’t think that it would benefit the Gophers or improve the quality of the game from a fan standpoint to reduce the size in any way.

  5. Mn finally put a series together. I don’t know what Lucia/Guentzel did to get them to play defense, but I hope they can keep it up. They have relied on Kangas too long and he was not playing with any confidence. Good time for playoff push. Not a lot of pairwise points but a chip and a chair looks good now.

    • Lucia and Guentzel had very little to do with it. The difference was Wilcox. The Gophers scored the same number of goals that they did when they went to Yost for the weekend. The difference was that Wilcox did not give up 7 questionable goals as he did that weekend in January. As Wilcox goes, so do the Gophers.

      • Partially disagree — lots to do with Wilcox. But also think the gophers looked more interested in playing defense, more aggressive, more willing to take the body, less willing to tolerate shenanigans in front of Wilcox. Overall, I think entire teams picked up on defense —- but do agree, Wilcox looked sharper than he had recently….

        • What did you do to get exiled? Bonaparte II? Solzhenitsyn II?

          If the exile stemmed from cheering for the Badgers…..please don’t share.

        • I agree with Exiled. They are playing better team defense. Not turning the puck over in their own zone, not leaving guys open in the slot, being more aggressive. It was as if Wilcox couldn’t shake off a mistake. If he left a fat rebound or let in a softy, he was fighting the puck all night.
          Better defense gives goalies more confidence and they play better. Better goaltending means more wins. More wins brings more confidence. Maybe they just needed a magic feather or Susan Sarandon’s underwear.

        • I understand your statement and believe in the first half that there were some major defensive lapses with the 3 new defensemen being rotated in the lineup the SCSU game was a good example of Wilcox being hung out to dry, but with Collins sort of assuming that 6 Dman role in the second half I have more more than happy with the defensive play, when Skeji has been in the lineup. Since the new year. I honestly believe it has Wilcox letting in squeakers or atypical goals as opposed to major defensive gaffs. I do however, think that there have been some team defensive breakdowns that have been to blame, the Friday night game against Wisconsin at Mariucci comes to mind.

  6. So since there was a huge article about offense last week and save for the Gophers 6 goals on Friday night, there was very little of it last weekend, I suspect that we will see a huge article about defense and goaltending this week, correct?

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