Pickin’ the Big Ten: Feb. 20-22

As the regular season winds down, we have a full weekend of Big Ten conference play. First, a look at how Drew Claussen and I are doing with the picks.

Last week
Drew: 5-1-0 (.833)
Paula: 4-2-0 (.666)

Season
Drew: 67-53-10 (.554)
Paula: 57-62-11 (.481)

I am grateful for any week in which I am over .500.

This week

There are two Friday-Saturday, single-site series and one home-and-home that goes Friday-Sunday. With Michigan and Minnesota tied for first place, Michigan State and Penn State tied for second and just two points out of first and four weeks of regular-season play remaining, things — as the kids say — are getting real.

Michigan vs. Ohio State

Drew: Michigan and Michigan State are two of the conference’s top four teams that absolutely need to sweep this weekend to keep their respective title hopes alive. Dropping points to a cellar dweller would be devastating right now. Red Berenson told me that for any team to guarantee a regular-season championship they would have to run the table, and he might be right. The Wolverines’ defense has caught up to them in the last couple weekends when their offense has failed to pour in goals routinely, but Ohio State has had some lopsided defeats this season, including two glaring ones to Michigan. If Michigan can get its defensive play and goaltending figured out in the next eight games, it could be a very dangerous playoff team. That is a very difficult task, however, and, while I am picking the Wolverines to sweep this weekend, I still can’t see them making a deep playoff run.

Paula: I agree with nearly everything Drew says, except in not seeing Michigan making a deep playoff run. If the Wolverines do shore up their team defense and goaltending in the last four weeks of the season, they’ll be doing so at the exact time of year when every team wants to play its best hockey — and that will make them dangerous postseason. Like Drew, though, I have my doubts about this team’s ability to do so. Michigan was an amazingly fun team to watch a few weeks ago. I’d like to see that team again. And again. And again.

Last weekend, the Wolverines dropped a road series to Minnesota, losing 6-2 and 2-0. I was impressed by their ability to limit the Gophers to two goals on the second night after giving up six, but I was also impressed by the Gophers’ ability to silence a potent offense that had netted two the night before. The Buckeyes split a home series with Wisconsin last weekend, winning 2-1 and losing 3-2, and at this point OSU can only hope to play itself up the standings for the best match possible in the Big Ten tournament. The Wolverines lead this all-time series 77-33-12, and they’re 35-16-5 in Columbus. More importantly, Michigan is 9-0-1 in the last 10 meetings between the teams.

Friday’s game in Columbus begins at 7:00 p.m. and is not televised. Sunday’s game starts at 5:00 p.m. in Ann Arbor and is carried by Fox Sports Detroit and SportsTime Ohio.

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

Michigan State at Wisconsin

Drew: I still can’t get myself to fully believe in this Michigan State team, but that hasn’t held them back, considering they’ve gone 5-2-1 in 2015. With the potential to hold any opponent to one or less goal any given night, Sparty is a dangerous team. Half of the Spartans’ final eight games are against the Badgers, which obviously should help their chances of winning the conference or capturing a first-round bye in the conference tournament. That being said, their other four games are against Minnesota and Michigan. Regardless this last month is going to be fun to watch.

Paula: Michigan State can be fun to watch, without question — but the Spartans can also play workaday, blue collar, clog-the-neutral-zone hockey … which can be effective but not so much fun to witness in real game time. No matter how the Spartans do it, that they can stymie opponents is one of their greatest strengths and will certainly make the next four weeks interesting. The thing about Michigan State is that the Spartans work harder and more consistently than any team I’ve seen play this season. When they let down, they let down in ways that betray their weaknesses, like their struggles with goal scoring, but they do not disappoint unless they disappoint themselves.

Last week, Michigan State swept Penn State at home, 3-0 and 3-2, and limiting one of the most powerful offenses in the country to two goals in a weekend is a very positive sign for the Spartans heading into this last month of regular-season play. In their last five games, the Spartans are 5-1-0, having allowed eight goals in that span, fewer than any other team in the country since Jan. 23. Also, goalie Jake Hildebrand has posted a 1.17 GAA and .964 in that stretch with two shutouts. Michigan State may be a quietly hot team — or hot-ish, at the very least.

Wisconsin registered its first league win last weekend, picking up a 3-2 win on the road against the Buckeyes Saturday after losing 2-1 the night before. Like the Buckeyes, the Badgers are now playing to put themselves in the best possible position for the Big Ten tournament.

Friday’s game is the later Big Ten Network contest, starting at 8:00 p.m. CT. Saturday’s game begins at 7:00 p.m. and is carried by The Wisconsin Channel.

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

Minnesota at Penn State

Drew: One could very easily argue that this is the biggest series Pegula Ice Arena has ever hosted. The Nittany Lions are coming off of a disappointing road sweep and will host a team that is two points in front of them in the standings, one which hasn’t lost in six contests. The good thing for Minnesota is that the majority of its players traveled to Penn State last season so the new-experience factor shouldn’t come into play this weekend. I could make an argument for this series to go to either team. Minnesota’s seniors have really stepped up recently and have brought the Gophers back to a level that we all thought them capable of. On the other hand, Penn State is a team that gets a lot of shots on net, which is something that Minnesota goaltender Adam Wilcox has struggled with this season. Goaltending will be key this weekend (like it always is) because both teams have high-octane offenses. I say home ice nets Penn State at least one victory in this series.

Paula: This one is certainly tough to call and is the series of the weekend to watch. With the home sweep of Michigan last weekend, Minnesota is 5-0-1 in its last six games, a stretch during which the Golden Gophers averaged 4.83 goals per game, having netted at least four goals in five of those contests. After allowing nine goals to Wisconsin in the first two games of that stretch, the Gophers allowed two in the three that followed that series immediately and then capped the run by shutting out Michigan’s nation-leading offense.

Penn State suffered its first sweep of the season last weekend with the two road losses to Michigan State, but the Nittany Lions play particularly well in Pegula Arena, with a record of 11-2-1 at home. Junior goaltender PJ Musico (2.13 GAA, .933 SV%) is expected to start in the Friday contest; he was in net for PSU’s sweep of Wisconsin two weeks ago and for the first loss against Michigan State. Musico hasn’t seen much action this year, but he is 4-2-1.

These are the first matches of the season between these two teams. Minnesota was 4-0-0 against Penn State last year. Friday’s game is the Big Ten Network’s early contest, beginning at 6:30 p.m. Saturday’s game starts at 5:00 p.m. and is carried by ESPNU.

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

53 COMMENTS

  1. FYI- Braynt Molle is from Anchorage, AK NOT Penticton, BC.
    Paula you’ve got to do your homework before you write these blogs.

  2. I was hoping that Candace would pick against BU for the third straight game. I thought she would say 7-1 Wisconsin ;)

    As a BU Alum, let me say how impressed I was with BC’s tournament. Great game against UMD and one critical mistake against Wisconsin.

    Hockey East may not win this year but we have come a long way! GO BU!

  3. RIT could be in first place in terms of total points, thanks to two extra games played, but Air Force will be in first in terms of win percentage. But, that’s hard to see through the orange-and-black goggles.

  4. GOPHS sweep, Friday night 5-3, Saturday 6-2 I think Penn State will try to get in shootout with the GOPHS and they won’t be able to hang. The gophers are starting to fire on all cylinders, watch out!

    • I agree with the sweep whole heartedly, although to think the gophers can get 11 goals this weekend seems a bit of a stretch. I can see 5-3 tonight in a game in which the gophers jump out to a 3-0 lead and then let PSU back in it while getting an empty netter to close it out. However on the back end I see it as a much tighter contest as I think PSU gives everything they have but ultimately fall short because the talent isn’t on par with Minnesota. In my opinion 3-2 Gophs. Either way the end result is the same and we are out of the weekend with a much needed 6!

    • I agree but I would say more 1-0, 2-1, maybe 3-2 games because if Adam Wilcox and PJ Musico play their best they are both really good.

    • Agreed. Hoping for a statment wknd from Minny. And if it turns into a track meet, AWESOME – no way can PSU hang with the Gophers in that type of game.

  5. With the thorough whooping Minnesota handed Michigan last week how can you pick anything but a sweep for Minnesota? Penn State has been playing better this season, but lets not get carried away and think they can steal 3 from the gophers coming off their best hockey weekend in months. Penn State hasn’t played meaningful games at the D1 level. I want to see them win when it counts, before I concede that they can hang with the big boys.

  6. This is probably the worst time for Penn State to have to play MN. They would have been better off playing them a month ago compared to now as the Gophers are playing some of their best hockey of the season. The one thing PSU has going for them is that the games are at Pegula.

    • This is Penn State’s chance to validate their overwhelmingly successful season. Should be their most important home series all year. I think the Gophers have the talent and are playing well enough recently to sweep. But I’m not going to guarantee it. All that said I’m looking forward to this weekend. I think the results will say a lot about how the two teams finish the season.

      • I wouldn’t call this an overwhelmingly successful season with the lightweight schedule they have had. With their SOS ranked at 47, they should be successful.

        • The question is will Skoff or Musico play? All my fellow Gopher fans seem to think that a sweep is easy pickings. I am not so sure. Penn State has only lost once at home and anyone who has watched them knows they are much better at home then they are away. If Wilcox plays like he did last weekend and the Gophers have the same sense of urgency then *can* sweep and although I would like to see it, I know that we struggled there last year, so I am leaning towards a split.

          • Completely agree with this – a Gopher sweep would be huge, but a split on the road is probably more realistic. Penn State had better be on their best game though, especially on defense.

    • Decatur, 5-2-1-1 is how I see it. Of course the SO win is against Minn, sorry Sat1992. And I do believe in “Miracles”…We require 6 this weekend to start. We get it…

      • You guys have the potential for a sweep, your team is riding high, with great goaltending. I think that Wisconsin is playing better, but their young D can be exploited. I expect two low scoring games, as both offenses struggle, but that the Spartans get the sweep, will setup as nice showdown next week with the Gophers.

  7. Picking against a Gopher sweep again Paula??? No wonder you can’t even pick half of your games right! You call yourself a sports writer??

  8. Despite the comments above, I don’t believe any time in the B1G right now has the ability of displayed the consistency to run the table. That will make for an interesting finish.
    Looking at the schedule above, it appears that Michigan has the easiest go this weekend, despite the woes of Wisconsin, they are actually playing better. I agree with Drew here, I expect Michigan to rebound against Ohio State and play well, but cannot envision them making much post-season noise until they get their goaltending issues sorted out, which have been a total roller coaster ride this year. However, if one of them gets hot, you never know, but the post season does not have the cupcakes included and you can’t go deep into the post-season without quality goaltending. I still think Michigan will sweep this weekend.
    Michigan State/Wisconsin; Michigan State should be riding high after their weekend sweep against Penn State and I think that this will propel them to a road sweep, they are playing well on both sides of the puck and getting quality goaltending, which spells problems for Bucky. I suspect that Bucky will hang around for awhile on both nights, but their inability to score and Michigan State’s eventual exploitation of Bucky’s young D corps will undo them each night. I expect lower scoring game each night, but that Michigan State will get the 6 points that Decatur and The Noke are looking for.
    The toughest matchup of the weekend Penn State/Minnesota. Both teams have high potent offense and Penn State has only lost once at home, this will be a tough test for the Gophers. Last year Minnesota eeked out two wins, but by the slimest of margins. I expect that the both game will be entertaining. It will be another good test for the Gophers to see if they are truly over the hump. If Wilcox plays like he did last weekend and the Gophers have the same sense of urgency to their game, they *can* sweep, but Penn State is a totally different team at home, so if the Gophers experience any of their previous inconsistency, they *will* have troubles. I will be pulling for a Gopher sweep with all my heart, but I suspect that they will split.

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