Teams searching for answers heading into conference play

Five B1G teams were in action this weekend with Wisconsin taking another weekend off. Here’s how the games played out:

  • Minnesota was swept at home by St. Cloud State
  • Ohio State was swept on the road by Nebraska-Omaha
  • Michigan State was swept at home by North Dakota
  • Michigan beat Dartmouth on Friday before the same two teams tied on Saturday
  • Penn State downed Vermont in a Sunday-afternoon matinee

Here are the three things I saw this weekend:

1. Sweeps galore

St. Cloud State, North Dakota and Nebraska-Omaha were each the favorite in their respective series against Big Ten foes this weekend, but the fact that Minnesota, Michigan State or Ohio State collectively weren’t able to steal a win this is a bit surprising.

The Gophers, which were the only team out of the three that got swept that I got to see a lot of this weekend, lost a close games against their in-state rivals on Friday. They we’re right in the thick of things again on Sunday before the Huskies put the game away on a five-minute major power play that was the result of a dumb hit by Nick Seeler. St. Cloud State scored twice on the major power play and Minnesota was unable to catch up after that. Minnesota’s power play looked decent this weekend, but undisciplined play also gave its opponent multiple chances with the extra man.

If there’s one thing that this weekend confirmed, it’s that the NCHC is a really good conference top-to-bottom. The B1G’s collective nonconference record may mean that we are only going to see one representative in the NCAA tournament this year. All that being said, the season still isn’t half over.

2. Good and bad for Michigan

Friday night couldn’t have gone any better for Michigan. Its offense was firing on all cylinders, as it has for most of the season, but the more important part was the team’s  defensive-play and more importantly Steve Racine’s 33-save shutout. The goaltending remained good on Saturday, but the offense went quiet as the Wolverines tied Dartmouth 1-1.

If Michigan can get its offense, defense and goaltending to click at the same time, it could be one of the better teams in the country. There have been snippets so far this year where that has happened, but it will need to be a more common occurrence for the Wolverines to make a long postseason run.

3. Penn State looks good

If I redid the preseason conference picks now that we’re done with the first chunk of nonconference play, Penn State would jump a couple spots. I think that the Nittany Lions are as good as any other team in the conference. They’re getting solid goaltending, timely goal-scoring and are very good on home ice.

The nonconference play so far has shown us that the Big Ten is going to be a wide-open conference this season. A strong argument could be made for Michigan, Penn State, Michigan State or Minnesota having a shot at capturing the regular-season crown. I’d need to see some more out of Wisconsin and Ohio State to say that they have a shot, but those two teams  aren’t going to be easy to beat.