A lot is on the line this weekend with the second- and third-place teams in the Big Ten facing off in Happy Valley.
Penn State earned a series win earlier in the season, and in the teams’ first game at Pegula, came away with another victory despite a lopsided shot total (47-36 in favor of Ohio State). Peyton Jones was by miles the best player on the ice and shut down the Buckeyes as his team won 5-2.
Any doubts about this being one of the most passionate rivalries in the Big Ten were quelled in the opening moments, as Andrew Sturtz and James Robinson leveled Buckeyes on their opening shift before Trevor Hamilton dumped Matthew Weis into Penn State’s bench soon after. Playing in front of the Roar Zone for the first time in a month, the Nittany Lions came out scorching and after killing off an early penalty, converted the building’s energy into the game’s first goal.
Denis Smirnov collected a puck that bounced off the boards behind Buckeyes goalie Sean Romeo and buried it to make the score 1-0. Ohio State actually outshot Penn State down the stretch (a difficult accomplishment) but it was the home team who scored the final goal of the period. Smirnov sauced a pass to Nate Sucese, who scored his fourth goal in two games to double the lead.
Ohio State looked like a much better team to start the second, thanks largely to the early powerplay it was gifted. Jones shut the door for the first 25 minutes of the game and made two crazy saves in the two seconds leading up to the Buckeyes’ first goal. Mason Jobst buried a rebound off of chances by Tanner Laczynski and Weis to bring the Buckeyes back within one.
The two-goal lead returned on a powerplay soon after, when Evan Barratt buried a rebound for his sixth goal of the season. Jobst potted a powerplay goal of his own, his second of the night, to bring the score to 3-2 with plenty of hockey left to be played. Despite allowing two goals in the period, Jones had already made his case to be the first star of the game. Ohio State led in shots 37-22, but the better goalie kept his team ahead.
The third period kept the pace up but with fewer results. Penn State began catching up in shots but wasn’t able to sustain any pressure at all for the frame's first five minutes or so. About halfway through, Chase Berger made a game-saving play while Jones was knocked down away from the puck — with it trickling towards the open net, he got his stick on it at the last second and knocked it clear.
That proved to be a turning point as Penn State was awarded a powerplay soon after and Sturtz added to his lengthy highlight reel with a classic toe-drag and snipe. Barratt added an empty-netter with authority and the Nittany Lions came away with a 5-2 win.
- Penn State’s unbeaten streak is now at 11(!) and Ohio State’s six-game winning streak was snapped.
- Romeo has allowed four goals in a game four times this season. Three of those times were in the three games against Penn State.
- Part of the reason for the shot disparity (again, 47-36 OSU) was the Buckeyes’ ability to prevent Penn State from entering their offensive zone, and even when Penn State was able to get the puck deep, Ohio State won a lot of one-on-one battles and recovered a ton of loose pucks. The credit goes more to their defensemen making good plays than Penn State’s forwards making bad ones, but that matchup is something to look forward to tomorrow.
- Smirnov was held without a point last weekend against Wisconsin but had two in the first period tonight. He started the game’s scoring with his goal then added an assist when Sucese made it 2-0. Penn State is at its best when Smirnov is at his, and that was the case here.
- The refs for this game really like the “pretend to drop the puck with three or four head fakes before the whistle” move. Ugh.
- Jones was pretty streaky last year but has been a lot more consistent in goal this season. This was by far his best game — if he can do this consistently, the sky’s the limit for his team.
- Penn State and Ohio State are back in action at 7 p.m. on Saturday on the Big Ten Network.