Hockey Preview : No. 11 Penn State Hosts a Struggling Michigan State This Weekend

By Sam Watson on January 11, 2019 at 9:49 am
Penn State hockey
Linsey Fagan - Roar Lions Roar
Michigan State Spartans
6-11-3 (2-6-2 B1G)
8:00 p.m. ET – FRIDAY, JAN. 11
7:00 p.m. ET – SATURDAY, JAN. 12
Game 1: BTN (BTN2Go Stream) | GAMETRACKER
Read: Talvitie Out Indefinitely with Knee Injury

After coming off a road series split against Minnesota last weekend, the Nittany Lions return home for a series against Michigan State. Penn State is still sitting sixth in the Big Ten standings, but that could change if this weekend goes well. After news broke that freshman forward and World Junior Champion Aarne Talvitie will be out indefinitely due to a knee injury he picked up during the final game of the tournament, some good news would not be under appreciated. Luckily, Michigan State presents the perfect opportunity to flex some offensive muscle and climb out of the bottom half of the B1G standings. 

Scouting Sparty

The glory days of Ryan Miller and a national championship seem like a lifetime ago for the Spartans. Since the start of the Big Ten hockey conference, MSU has not challenged for a conference championship. This year seems to be more of the same, although there is a glimmer of hope in East Lansing.  

Michigan State is currently 6-11-3 and 2-6-2 in Big Ten play. Spartan out of conference wins have come against underwhelming North Michigan, Cornell, and Ferris State teams. Wins against Minnesota and Michigan and ten conference points are all that MSU has to show for their efforts. While that doesn't exactly inspire hope, the reason for creeping thoughts of good times to come for the Spartans lies in their dynamic first line. 

Forwards Outlook

Taro Hirose, Patrick Khodorenko, and Mitchell Lewandowski, affectionately known as the “KHL” line, are making a case for the best line in college hockey. Hirose has been absolutely fantastic this year, and because Evan Barratt was off playing for his country, he currently leads the nation with 31 points (nine goals, 22 assists). Khodorenko and Lewandowski aren't far behind with 9-12-21 and 6-13-19 respectively. Ohio State found out the hard way last weekend just how dynamic this trio is when they combined for four goals in a 7-7 tie. While this line has been outstanding through the first half of the season, the rest of the team has not been able to match the top line scoring. Despite those gaudy numbers, MSU still finds themselves 37th in scoring with an average of just 2.66 goals per game. 

Defensive Outlook

Michigan State averages 3.45 goals against per game, and it's hard to say whether the problem is the defensive unit, the goaltenders, or both. The top pairing of Jerad Rosburg and Denis Cesana have been solid (nine points, plus-3, and 14 points, plus-1 respectively), but the problem of depth that the offense faces is also an issue defensively. Ohio State was able to win the second game of the series 6-0 last weekend, and that sums up pretty well the type of Michigan State team that will come to Pegula this weekend.

Goaltender Outlook

The goaltending for Michigan State has been lackluster this season. Freshman Drew DeRidder and junior John Lethemon have evenly split time and have virtually identical numbers. DeRidder is currently sitting at 3.45 GAA and .898 save percentage, and Lethemon at 3.22 GAA and .897 save percentage -- both of which are underwhelming. Neither goaltender been able to grab a hold of the starting job. There's a good chance both could see time in Pegula; there's an even better chance both could be picking the puck out of the net a whole lot. 

Keys to a Penn State Win

I'm not yet worried about the Nittany Lions' chances to get back to Allentown. Although sixth place in the Big Ten is not ideal, it could and should all change this weekend. As they showed last weekend in the first game of the series against Ohio State, Michigan State is not a guaranteed win, but there has not been a better opportunity for a weekend sweep this season.

To accomplish that, the offensive engine will need to keep on rolling and take advantage of Michigan State's lack of depth. Getting Barratt back will definitely help. Losing Talvitie will hurt, but hopefully not too much. Penn State has had its share of defensive woes against great top lines (see: Arizona State and Princeton,) and cannot afford to let MSU's top line take control of the series. It seems almost weekly that not giving up fast breaks seems to be a talking point, and that is again true for this weekend. We can live with giving up a goal or two to the Hirose, Khodorenko, and Lewandowski line. Giving up four or five goals to that line would be trouble. 


Sam: I'm not thinking about hitting the panic button on the season. But if things don't go well, my hand will be hovering over it. While I don't expect the team to be eyeing the standings at this point in the season, the importance of getting all six points this weekend is definitely felt all over town. Penn State is a deeper team offensively, and getting Barratt back will be huge. The question isn't whether or not Penn State will be able to score, it's if the defense will be able to hold up. I think it will. Evan Bell had a solid debut weekend and will again help slow down the dynamic Michigan State top line. Penn State will get the sweep. Game 1: 5-2. Game 2: 6-3. 

Kaitlyn: To put it simply, Sparty just hasn’t been good this season. It’s been blanked by good teams like Ohio State that the Lions skated with (and beat), and it sits dead last in the Big Ten standings. Goaltending is a huge question mark, goals come few and far between for an offense that features just one good line, and its penalty kill is really struggling. The one bright spot is once again Taro Hirose, who leads the team, and the nation, in scoring. Penn State should have a field day at home and sweep with ease. Let's just hope the breakaways against happen sparingly. Game 1: 6-2, Game 2: 7-1.