After the first full weekend of Big Ten play in 2016, we may be getting a glimpse of a finishing order. The weekend was a very good gauge for every team in the league.
1. Michigan’s offense is undeniable.
If the Wolverines falter in the second half, it won’t be because Michigan can’t score goals. Michigan begins the week leading the nation in scoring offense again after beating Michigan State 9-2 and 6-3 — and in neither game did the Spartans ever really threaten to derail the Wolverines. Writers throw around the word “explosive” when referring to the offensive output of many teams, but in Michigan’s case, it’s warranted. In the first period of the 9-2 road win, Michigan scored its first three goals in the span of a minute and 21 seconds, and those goals included the tying goal, the game-winning goal and one for good measure. Then late in the period, Michigan added two more 43 seconds apart to take a 5-2 lead after one.
In each win, the Spartans scored first. Even though Michigan State came back to make it a 5-3 game late in the second period of Saturday’s game in Ann Arbor, there was no doubt that Michigan’s deep offense would allow the Spartans to catch up. Eight different Wolverines scored, including two defensemen. Steve Racine looked good in net for UM and the Wolverines kept the Spartans’ shots to 53 for the weekend.
2. Minnesota is a team that learns from mistakes.
Against a single conference opponent, the Golden Gophers learn quickly from mistakes made the first night they play. Minnesota began its Big Ten season with a home sweep of Ohio State (Dec. 4-5) and then split its next two B1G series on the road, first against Michigan (Dec. 11-12) and this past weekend against Penn State. Against Michigan, the Gophers lost 8-3 on a Friday night before coming from behind in Saturday’s contest to limit that explosive Michigan offense and win 3-2.
Against Penn State, Minnesota came from behind in Friday’s 3-2 loss to tie the contest in the middle of the third period, but PSU’s Vince Pedrie scored the game-winning goal for the Nittany Lions at 3:57 in OT. By Saturday afternoon’s game, the Gophers had gotten past whatever stymied their offense early Friday night; Minnesota led 2-0 after the first, 3-0 after the second and won the game 7-1. Incidentally, Pedrie had the only goal for Penn State in that loss.
3. Ohio State is awake and Wisconsin is tenacious.
The Buckeyes are undefeated (3-0-1) in their last four, dating back to their Dec. 28 win over Boston College in the Florida College Classic and including their road weekend against Wisconsin, where they took four of six points with a 2-0 win and 4-4 tie. That’s a good story, and kudos to OSU junior Christian Frey on his third career shutout, all of which have come this season.
There’s another equally compelling story here, though, and that’s the tenacity of a Wisconsin team that is fighting hard and playing to the best of its ability. After being shut out Friday, the Badgers came from behind twice to eventually tie the game 4-4, and Wisconsin prevailed in the shootout for the extra point. The story here is Wisconsin’s refusal to be completely defeated. With the exception of their trip to Boston in October in which the Badgers lost to both Boston College and Boston University, the Badgers have been swept by no single opponent in a single weekend. That includes a 1-3-2 record against ranked teams during a six-game stretch Nov. 6 through Dec. 5 — and that win was over North Dakota — and a 1-3-2-1 record in Big Ten play.
Points every weekend is not a bad path to redemption.
Detroit’s 2-1 win over Anaheim Sunday night featured alumni from seven CCHA teams, and Notre Dames Riley Sheahan had the game-winning goal for the Red Wings at 16:16 in the third. (If you watched the game, you saw that Sheahan scored what looked like a goal in the first period, with the puck hitting the net camera and going right back through the netting.) Sheahan played last night on an all-CCHA line along with Spartan Justin Abdelkader and Wolverine Luke Glendening. The game was a good one and hearing all the CCHA names — including one of my personal favorites, Bowling Green’s Kevin Bieksa — was a nostalgic pleasure and a reminder of how much talent came out of that now-defunct league.