Penn State vs. Ohio State Series Preview: Two Top-5 Rivals Set to Clash in Columbus

By Kaitlyn Dividock on November 21, 2018 at 8:24 am
Penn State forward Denis Smirnov (25) defends an Ohio State rush into the Nittany Lions' zone.
Nick Hudak-The Lantern
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No. 5 Ohio State Buckeyes
8-3-1 (3-1 Big Ten)
ROSTER / SCHEDULE
5:00 p.m. ET – FRIDAY, NOV. 23
SCHOTTENSTEIN CENTER
COLUMBUS, OHIO
8:00 p.m. ET – SATURDAY, NOV. 24
SCHOTTENSTEIN CENTER
COLUMBUS, OHIO
Game 1: BTN+ ($)LISTEN
Game 2: BTN+ ($)LISTEN

No. 6 Penn State (10-1-1, 1-1 B1G) has its first true in-conference road test approaching in a menacing way. The Nittany Lions will enter Columbus, Ohio high off a thrilling overtime victory over No.16 Michigan – led by Evan Barratt's ridiculous hat-trick performance – to split their Big Ten opening series. The Buckeyes (8-3-1, 3-1 B1G) are ranked fifth in the nation and, at least in their current state, are a defensive nightmare to play against. It should be a wild ride from start to finish. Let's delve in.

Buckeyes Scouting Report

Ohio State is coming off a sweep of Wisconsin this past weekend, but the stat that jumps off the page, rolls up a newspaper, and smacks you in the face is the goals allowed per game clinic the team has managed to pull off in its last six contests. The Buckeyes have only let in three goals in that stretch, equating to an unbelievable .50 goals per game average. In those six games, Ohio State went 5-1, improving its record after starting out the season pretty sloppily. To boot, over the last five games, the Buckeyes have also strung together a program-record team shutout streak and are owners of five total shutouts this season – the current NCAA-best mark.

Looking beyond that recent six-game sample size, the Buckeyes have still stood tall, allowing only a 1.83 goals per game average (ranked third nationally) in 12 total tilts so far. A known difficulty in getting pucks to hit twine will finally give Penn State's lethal scorers (hello, Limoges-Barratt-Folkes) something to challenge them for once. So while the Buckeyes will be looking to get a new shutout streak started, the Nittany Lions will surely be itching to be the first team to put more than two pucks in the net against the Bucks since early November.

Forwards Outlook

For the third-straight season, Tanner Laczynski is the guy to watch. He currently leads the team with 11 points (five goals, six assists) in just nine games played, which is a true testament to his scoring prowess. The rest of his teammates trail him in the scoring department, despite having two or three more games under their belts than the star junior. Senior Mason Jobst also sounds off a ton of alarms. He's just behind Laczynski with 10 points (seven goals, three assists) and will look to fling pucks to the net as often as he possibly can, especially on the power play. Jobst and teammate Dakota Joshua are tied for the team-high SOG tally with 42 each.

From there, you'll find tons of secondary scoring from the Buckeyes' middle-six forwards, featuring a solid goal-to-assist ratio distribution among just about all of them.

Defensemen Outlook

The defense, to no surprise when you look at the numbers, is not very offensive-minded. That's no fluke. This Buckeye blueline is a clear cut-and-dry shutdown unit with a bully-like ability to squander tons of potential shots against. For perspective, this group's backcheck helps out so well with stymying the amount of pucks goaltenders Sean Romeo and Tommy Napier face, that they both have around 70 fewer shots hitting off their pads combined compared to all six of Ohio State's past opposing netminders so far.

The Buckeyes had three straight shutouts, with two at Colgate (3-0, 1-0) and a 4-0 win over Wisconsin last Friday. Per their athletics page, it was the second time in program history the Bucks didn't allow a single goal in three straight games. In a five-game stretch, the Buckeyes had a program-record team shutout streak of 231:42, passing the old mark of 211:58 set in 2011-12 and marking the 15th-longest streak in NCAA history.

Sounds like music to the ears of this electrifying Penn State offense, no?

Goalie Outlook

Much like what Guy Gadowsky does with Peyton Jones and Chris Funkey, the Buckeyes have just about evenly split the starts between Romeo and Nappier. Nappier will likely be the goalie we see to start the series Friday evening, as he currently leads Romeo in ice time, goals allowed (8), goals against average (1.27, ranked fourth nationally), save percentage (.958), and overall record (4-1-1). He also has two shutouts to his credit.

However, Romeo is no chump and is tied for the NCAA lead in shutouts with three of his own. He has also put together a respectable .918 save percentage, a very-good-for-college-hockey goal against average of 2.13, and a 4-2-0 record. Oh, and he also shutout 2018 National Championship runner-up, Notre Dame, who have now dropped three spots in the USCHO poll to No. 8.

These two are getting a lot of attention – you can read more about this tandem over at The Athletic ($) if you want an in-depth look at their weekly approach.

Keys To a Penn State Win

Most of the time this would go without saying, but Penn State has to avoid the sin bin in this series. Laczynski, Jobst, and Gordi Myer are all coming off hot performances and combined for four tallies on the man-advantage during the Wisconsin series, which accounted for 57% of the team's goals scored over the two games against the Badgers.

The Lions also have to beat the Buckeyes' checkers, pepper the hell out of Romeo or Nappier, and make them both as uncomfortable as possible between the pipes. Maybe then they'll lose their footing and start to cough up three or four-plus goals. An ice tuddy in Columbus sounds like a beautiful thing.

Ohio State leads the all-time series with Penn State with a 12-8-2 record, including a 6-3-1 line strictly on the Buckeyes' turf. Last year, the Nittany Lions won the regular season series 2-1-1. The Lions will look to keep that ball rolling against a big-time opponent to secure some cushion in the powerful Big Ten.

Predictions

Sam: Ohio State has been underperforming to start the season (I especially enjoyed Bowling Green hanging eight up on the Bucks in their own building), but after sweeping Wisconsin last weekend, it seems like they are back on track to being a top Frozen Four contender. Their strength in their wins has been good defending and great goaltending, and that’s definitely a recipe for success. The best way to combat good defense and goaltending (hopefully)? The nation’s best offense. Penn State can score against anyone and has played well in Columbus historically. The balanced attack will break down the Buckeyes, and the defense will be able to hold it together enough to get the job done. Penn State sweeps with 5-4 and 3-1 wins.

Kaitlyn: I'm a little less optimistic than my co-worker because this Ohio State defense and goaltending duo is quite unnerving on paper – especially since they've both recently hit their groove. That being said, Penn State is lethal in the offensive end, and if Bowling Green can hang a touchdown and a two-point conversion on these Buckeyes, the likes of Evan Barratt, Alex Limoges, Brandon Biro, Nikita Pavlychev, and Denis Smirnov, with their suffocating forecheck, speed, and playmaking ability, should wipe the floor with them. Let's just hope both Funkey and Jones hold their own in the other end.

Oh hell, why not. Nittany Lions get the seemingly improbable sweep, but it goes all the way down to the wire and likely features some exhilarating OT. Game 1: 4-3, Game 2: 3-2.

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