What a weekend of Big Ten hockey. There are many more than three takeaways, but here are my immediate three.
1. With eight games remaining, it’s way to early to write off Penn State.
The Nittany Lions shook off four straight losses and snapped a five-game winless streak with a road sweep of Wisconsin, the hottest Big Ten team heading into last weekend’s play. The Badgers had won five in a row before facing Penn State Friday night. The Nittany Lions never trailed in the series and returned to their offense-minded ways, outscoring the Badgers 11-5 in the two games. PSU freshman Denis Smirnov broke a streak of his own, scoring three goals and adding two assists in the series to end a stretch of five games without a point.
Half of PSU’s remaining eight games are at home, where the Nittany Lions have a 13-2-1 record. Both of those home series are against Minnesota and Wisconsin, the two teams ahead of Penn State in the B1G standings — Wisconsin by two points and Minnesota by five. Talk about an opportunity for a power play.
2. Never give Minnesota the man advantage. Ever.
The Golden Gophers went 6-for-10 on the power play against Ohio State Saturday night. Incidentally, they won that game 6-5. Even lunkheads like me can do that kind of math. The Gophers also netted a power-play goal in Friday’s 5-4 loss. I’m going to guess that the Buckeyes will be working on their penalty kill this week.
Both games in Columbus were back and forth, with teams exchanging the leads. After winning Friday night, the Buckeyes jumped to a 3-0 lead by the 5:32 mark in the second Saturday. Special teams played into 12 of the 20 goals scored on the weekend if you count Minnesota’s goal with the extra attacker at the end of the third Friday. Ignoring for a moment that neither team seemed much interested in playing defense, the Buckeyes and Gophers each emerged from the weekend with improved power-play percentages (duh), Ohio State still leading the nation (29.7) and Minnesota fourth (27.1); the Buckeyes are still second nationally in goals per game (4.14), Minnesota fourth (3.89).
3. I remember when the Michigan State-Michigan rivalry meant something more than a struggle to climb out of the basement.
Yeah, I said it.
The good news for Spartan fans is that Michigan State — which may or may not finish last in the conference — beat Michigan — which may or may not finish last in the conference — on Saturday night, 4-1.
Not only does that mean points for Michigan State, but that win marks the first time since the 1989-90 season that the Spartans beat the Wolverines twice in Yost Ice Arena in one regular season, a big deal in terms of this rivalry. Michigan State also emerged from the weekend with four points after the teams tied 4-4 in Joe Louis Arena Friday night, more good news for Spartan fans.
The first period of Saturday’s game was exciting, but the final two periods were some of the most boring hockey I’ve seen in years. In Yost Ice Arena. Between Michigan and Michigan State. The Wolverines exhibited absolutely no passion beyond some frustration. To the Spartans’ credit, they took advantage of every opportunity, scoring three unassisted goals in the contest.
Not B1G hockey, but worth a mention.
Northern Michigan sophomore goaltender Atte Tolvanen has posted five straight shutouts and hasn’t allowed a goal in more than 335 minutes of play. He’s also played five straight games for the Wildcats.