Big Ten play begins tonight, but first a look at how Drew Claussen and I are doing with the picks.
Drew: 2-4-0 (.333)
Paula: 4-2-0 (.666)
Drew: 69-57-10 (.544)
Paula: 61-64-11 (.489)
There are three weekends left in regular-season Big Ten play, and there are three conference series each weekend. This weekend begins with Michigan State at Minnesota, a Thursday-Friday series. On Friday and Saturday, Penn State plays at Ohio State and Wisconsin plays at Michigan.
Michigan State at Minnesota
Drew: The Spartans hit a speed bump last weekend when they split a series with Wisconsin and they’ll have a tough road test this weekend. It’ll be interesting to see what 8:00 p.m. starts each night do to the attendance numbers for this series, especially on Thursday. I haven’t met a media member that enjoys late starts and the fan reaction I’ve seen is basically split down the middle. I’m hesitant to pick Minnesota to sweep this weekend, even with its 11-2-1 record at Mariucci. The Spartans play the kind of trap-style defense that has frustrated this Minnesota team multiple times this season. Would I be shocked if the Gophers did sweep? Absolutely not. The Gophers did destroy the Spartans 5-0 earlier this season in East Lansing before tying the second game. However, I think both of these games are going to be close and I wouldn’t be surprised if one or both are one-goal games that either go into or flirt with overtime.
Paula: You know I’m big on Michigan State’s defense, but I am also hesitant to call anything but a Minnesota sweep. The Golden Gophers’ offense has been down a bit lately, registering seven goals in their last three contests after a five-game stretch in which they netted at least four a game. The Spartans have shut out opponents three times in their last seven contests. As Drew said, both games begin at 8:00 p.m. Both games are on the Big Ten Network, too.
Drew’s picks: Michigan State 3-2, Minnesota 4-2.
Paula’s picks: Minnesota 3-2, 3-1.
Penn State at Ohio State
Drew: Penn State really impressed me last weekend. After losing a tough one-goal game on Friday night, a lot of teams would not have responded against Minnesota the way the Nittany Lions did on Saturday. Yes, Minnesota and its fans will point to a soft penalty call that led to Penn State’s overtime goal on Saturday, but the Nittany Lions got the result that they deserved. Ohio State will look to play the spoiler role, as it did last weekend against Michigan. This series being played at Ohio State makes me hesitant to pick Penn State to sweep, but that’s the result I’m going with.
Paula: These teams split a pair of games in Pegula Arena earlier this season, a 5-4 overtime OSU win with Penn State picking up the rematch 4-1 the next night (Jan. 9-10). Ohio State is 4-3-0 all-time versus Penn State, and last year the Buckeyes swept the Nittany Lions quite decisively in Columbus. Don’t ask me why I’m calling a game for Ohio State. I will say that they looked better in that win against Michigan than they have for most of the season. Friday’s game begins at 6:30 p.m. and is the early game on the Big Ten Network; Saturday’s game starts at 7:00 p.m. and is carried by American Sports Network.
Drew’s picks: Penn State 3-1, 3-1.
Paula’s picks: Ohio State 4-2, Penn State 4-2.
Wisconsin at Michigan
Drew: Picking games that involve the Badgers has become slightly more difficult after the calendar turned to 2015. Wisconsin is playing .500 hockey in its last four games. After the start of the season, I would define that as success for the Badgers. Michigan is coming off of a disappointing split with Ohio State last weekend. The only thing I can really say about that series is that Michigan needs to sweep. With Penn State and Michigan State left on its schedule, the Wolverines can’t drop points to Wisconsin and expect to finish first in the conference.
Paula: Michigan swept Wisconsin on the road, 7-4 and 6-0, Jan. 23-24, and last year in Yost Ice Arena, the Wolverines took five of six points from the Badgers with a 3-1 win and 2-2 tie and extra shootout point (Jan. 31-Feb. 1, 2014). I like that the Badgers have learned how to win a few since the start of the calendar year, rather than creating new ways to lose. The Wolverines need to play consistent team defense, and it won’t help that they’ll be without sophomore Michael Downing Friday night, as he serves a one-game suspension following his third game misconduct on a hit against Ohio State’s Christian Lampasso last Sunday. Friday’s game begins at 7:30 p.m. and is televised by Fox Sports Detroit Plus and Fox Sports West. Saturday’s afternoon contest is the early Big Ten Network game, and it begins at 4:00 p.m.
Drew’s picks: Michigan 4-1, 6-2.
Paula’s picks: Michigan 3-2, 4-2.