The Big Ten Conference is only a few years old, but a few major rivalries have already emerged - and chief among them is Penn State and Ohio State.
Every series between the teams has some brief historical significance and this weekend shouldn’t be any different. The Nittany Lions are riding a 10-game unbeaten streak, while the Buckeyes have a six-game win streak. Ohio State is in second place in the Big Ten standings and has a two-point lead over Penn State with six points on the line in the next two games.
This is an opportunity for someone to pull away, especially since this is the last time the teams will meet this regular season (Penn State won in a shootout then in regulation in Columbus in December).
Let’s take a closer look at the Buckeyes:
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Ohio State has turned heel from its game last season, when it looked a lot like Penn State with its high-tempo scheme that featured tons of shots and four-plus goals per game. The Buckeyes are defensively sound this season, thanks to some additions we’ll get to later and because of a lot of key losses to graduation up front.
The majority of the offense runs through Flyers draft pick Tanner Laczynski, who leads his team in goals, assists and points, and leads the Big Ten in the last category. Matthew Weis, Mason Jobst, and Dakota Joshua have also haunted the Nittany Lions in the past, but it’s Laczynski who will command most of the team’s attention. If the sophomore’s line can be shut down, Penn State’s path to a victory is much easier. If not, Ohio State could escape Hockey Valley with two wins.
An adverse effect of Ohio State’s shift from focusing on offense to defense is its scoring from the blue line. Matt Miller leads the Buckeye defensemen with nine points in 20 games while Sasha Larocque is second with six in 22. That is to say: There’s no real threat of this corps chipping in on offense, which at least makes one aspect of the game easier.
Ohio State’s penalty kill is statistically the best in the country, though, and the team averages almost a full goal-against fewer than Penn State per game. That’s because of great play from their goalie and their sophomore-heavy group of defensemen. This series will be strength-against-strength and the key question that will determine its outcome is whether or not Penn State can score on this group.
Sean Romeo, in his first year playing for the Buckeyes after transferring from Maine, has been nothing short of outstanding. His 1.94 goals-against average and .927 save percentage speak for themselves; his game-to-game performances are something else.
In 22 games, Ohio State has given up more than three goals just four times. One game was started by backup Tommy Napier (a 5-4 win over UConn) and the other three were starts from Romeo: a 4-1 loss to Notre Dame, a 5-5 tie with Penn State and a 4-0 loss to Penn State.
Again, this series is a question of which strength will give in. Ohio State rarely allows four goals in a game, but Penn State averages that. Romeo is the biggest deciding factor in the series and is the player to watch for that reason.
Both teams enter this series scorching. Because of that, this series is harder to make predictions for than most others. I’ll guess that in one game each, a team is able to flex its strengths and take a win. On Friday night, in front of the Roar Zone for the first time this semester, Penn State will take a 5-2 win. On Saturday, Romeo will bounce back for a 3-1 win.
How to watch
Both games are at Pegula Ice Arena. Friday’s game is at 7:30 p.m. EST on BTN Plus and Saturday’s is at 7 p.m. EST on BTN. Saturday’s game is also a whiteout.