After starting Big Ten play with a home split against Michigan and a road split against Ohio State, Penn State will travel to unranked Wisconsin for its next conference series this weekend.
Wisconsin Scouting Report
The Badgers have not had a strong start to their season with a 5-7-2 record. After losing Trent Frederic to the Boston Bruins system, they have struggled to find consistent scoring. Of note so far this season, the Badgers have been swept by North Dakota and Ohio State on the road, split with Minnesota at home, and split shoot out wins with Michigan in Ann Arbor. Will they be able to win the Big Ten regular season title? Probably not. Are they going to be a tough team to put away? Absolutely.
Wisconsin is currently ranked 37th is goals per game with a 2.68 average and only four players with double digit points scored. Compare that to Penn State's nine. Forwards Seamus Malone (11) and Tarek Baker (10) as well as defenseman Wyatt Kalynuk (11) and K'Andre Miller (10) lead the Badgers in scoring. Sean Dhoogie leads the team in goals with a respectable seven, but other that those five guys, the Badgers don't have a whole lot going for them in the goal scoring department. They haven't been able to score more than three goals in a game since last month against Michigan Tech, stretch of eight games. Safe to say that I'm not overly worried about the Badgers hanging ten goals on Penn State's defense this weekend.
The Badgers strength as a team has been their blue line. Any time you play Michigan on the road and hold them to three goals in a weekend, you're obviously doing something right defensively. Leading the way this season for the defense is K'Andre Miller, who has a +7 to go along with his ten points. Wyatt Kalynuk sits just behind Miller with a +6. Senior Captain Peter Tischke is no doubt the emotional leader of the defense. Although he only has two points, he's been planted on the Badgers' top defensive pairing. After giving up six goals against Michigan Tech and five against North Dakota early in the season, whatever the Badgers have found defensively of late is keeping them in games.
Goaltending has not been smooth for the Badgers so far this season. Junior Jack Berry and freshman Daniel Ledbedeff have each played in eight games this season, and neither guy has been able to grab ahold of the starting job. Berry's time at Wisconsin has been disappointing, and bringing in a strong freshman to challenge him to improve must have been the offseason plan. That plan hasn't quite worked because Ledbedeff's numbers (2.26 GAA, .922 save percentage) are better than Berry's (3.42, .891). Both guys started and had solid games against Michigan last weekend, so its clear that head coach Tony Granato doesn't want to give his freshman goaltender the keys to the car just yet. If both guys continue to split time successfully, there may not be a need to name an outright starter, but if Berry's performance against Michigan was a fluke, we could see a lot more of Ledbedeff.
Keys to a Penn State Sweep
Score early and score a lot. Wisconsin hasn't been in a close, high scoring game this season, so if Penn State can put up two or three goals in the first period and get the nation's leading offense rolling, the Badgers will not be able to keep up. There are some whispers from both inside and outside the Penn State Hockey circles that Evan Barratt is an early front runner for that college hockey trophy that everyone and their mothers likes to speculate about, so I'm looking for him to get back in a groove after being held off the scoresheet on Saturday against Ohio State. Penn State had a strong defensive weekend against the Buckeyes, and more of the same against the Badgers should get the job done. Paul DeNaples has for sure been the biggest surprise of the season on defense. He's been great in his own zone and leads the nation with a +19. I said after the Michigan series that Penn State needed to ride Peyton Jones back to Allentown, and he proved me right against Ohio State last week. If Jones can turn in the same type of performance against the Badgers, Penn State should cruise to a comfortable sweep.
Kaitlyn: The biggest thing that “scares” me, and take this with a grain of salt, is the Badgers’ penalty kill. Their PK left Michigan scoreless in 11 attempts last weekend, which is impressive in and of itself. Penn State has a high-flying power play that’s feasted on opposing teams this season, even against foes like Ohio State. If the Lions light the lamp on the man advantage, they’ll be fine. Also, Wisconsin 0-5 when trailing after one period and 0-6 when they’re behind after 40 minutes. Scoring first shouldn’t be a challenge for this Penn State offense. I’m calling sweep. Game 1: 6-2, Game 2: 5-1.
Sam: Wisconsin always seems to have a depth problem with it's scoring. They've had great players like Luke Kunin and Trent Frederic the last three to four seasons, but haven't been able to get the balanced attack from all lines that carries you into the post season. This year is no different for the Badgers. I'm always wary of road games because Penn State usually has one goose egg of a road weekend every year, but I don't think Wisconsin will pose much of a threat. When any four of your offensive lines can take over a game on a given night, your odds of beating a team that hasn't scored four goals in a game for over a month are pretty good. I am also calling for a sweep, although I don't think it'll be a blow out weekend. Game 1: 4-2, Game 2: 3-1. Bucky is an angry skunk.