Pickin’ the Big Ten: December 4-5

Oh, it’s about time! Big Ten conference hockey begins this weekend! So far this season, the Big Ten is 29-32-11 (.479) in nonconference play. Here’s how Drew Claussen and I have done predicting the first two months of the season.

Last week
Drew: 7-1-1 (.833)
Paula: 5-3-1 (.611)

Drew: 39-21-12 (.625)
Paula: 41-19-12 (.653)

This week

Michigan State at Penn State

Drew: This is a really good opportunity for the Nittany Lions to prove that they belong in the conference title conversation by taking the majority of the points from this series. The Spartans haven’t picked up a victory since early November and have gone 0-4-1 in their last five games, all against ranked opponents. Penn State has a balanced scoring attack and has gotten solid goal tending out of Eamon McAdam and Matthew Skoff so far this season. This one could end up being a split, but I’m going to say Penn State works some of its Pegula magic and pulls a sweep off.

Paula: Drew is likely right about the sweep, but I’m still loathe to call one where Michigan State is concerned because of how well the Spartans have played in many games during that six-game winless stretch. Michigan State dropped two at home to North Dakota last Friday and Sunday, and Penn State shut out Vermont last Sunday in the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. The Spartans are 6-2-2 against the Nittany Lions all time, and last year Michigan State swept Penn State in two games in East Lansing (Feb. 13-14). Friday’s game begins at 7:00 p.m., Saturday’s at 3:00 p.m., and neither is televised.

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

Ohio State at Minnesota

Drew: It’s hard to be confident in either of these teams right now, but somebody has to win, right? Saying that will probably curse the series and we’ll get two ties. Ohio State has failed every tough test it has faced so far this season, and no matter the state of the home team, going into Mariucci as the away team is a test. Minnesota will be without defenseman Nick Seeler, who was suspended one game because of a hit to the head on a St. Cloud State player last weekend, so the Gophers will be thin on the blue line on Friday night. I believe the Buckeyes will be able to take advantage of that and win a close on on Friday and the Gophers will rebound with a victory on Saturday.

Paula: Once again, it’s hard to disagree with my esteemed colleague. The Buckeyes lost twice on the road to Nebraska-Omaha last weekend, and the Gophers are trying to snap a three-game losing streak — all at home — after two losses to St. Cloud State last weekend. In fact, Minnesota is 2-5-0 at home and 2-2-0 away. Last year, the Gophers were 4-1-0 against the Buckeyes, including a sweep in Minneapolis (Feb. 6-7) and a win in a Big Ten tournament semifinal game. The games are Friday and Saturday at 7:00 p.m. Friday’s game is televised by Fox Sports North and SportsTime Ohio; Saturday’s game is on ESPNews.

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

Wisconsin at Michigan

Drew: The Badgers have played well enough so far this season that you have to give them a chance this weekend, even if it is an away series against one of the conference’s best teams. My key to the series has to be the goaltenders. Matt Jurusik has shown that he has the ability to steal a game and if he’s able to shut down the Wolverines’ offense the Badgers could steal one on the road. I’m going to play it safe and pick a sweep, but a different result wouldn’t surprise me.

Paula: The key to this series is how Michigan plays. It’s not just a matter of goaltending, at least not for the Wolverines; it’s team defense. If Michigan plays a cohesive game, I don’t think the Badgers have a chance (and I say that as someone who happens to like Wisconsin). The Wolverines defeated and tied visiting Dartmouth last weekend; Wisconsin tied and lost to visiting Denver. Michigan is 6-0-1 versus Wisconsin in the last seven meetings. The Badgers last beat the Wolverines when they swept Michigan in Yost Ice Arena Jan. 10-11, 2014. Games are at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and both are televised by Comcast.

Drew’s picks: Michigan 5-3, 4-3.
Paula’s picks: Michigan 4-2, 3-1.