Preview: No. 18 Penn State Welcomes Minnesota for Weekend Series

By Sam Watson on February 8, 2019 at 9:40 am
Penn State Forward Denis Smirnov
RLR Staff
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Minnesota Golden Gophers
11-12-4 (8-7-3 B1G)
ROSTER / SCHEDULE
6 p.m. EST – FRIDAY, FEB. 8
PEGLUA ICE ARENA
UNIVERSITY PARK, PA
6 p.m. EST – SATURDAY, FEB. 9
PEGULA ICE ARENA
UNIVERSITY PARK, PA
Game 1: BTN (TV) or BTN2Go | GAMETRACKER
Game 2: BTN (TV) or BTN2Go | GAMETRACKER

With four weekends left in the regular season and Minnesota coming to town, it's crunch time for Penn State. The Nittany Lions came into their bye week last weekend riding high after snapping a four-game losing streak against Michigan in Madison Square Garden. Last year's magical end of the year run started with a home series against Minnesota, and there isn't a fan alive that wouldn't mind seeing that happen again.

Scouting the Gophers

Penn State and Minnesota started 2019 off with a series split in Minneapolis. Since then, the Gophers swept Notre Dame in South Bend, got swept by surging Michigan State, and split with both Wisconsin and Michigan at home. In those eight games, the Gophers have finally found consistent scoring throughout their lineup, but unlike the first half to their season, the defense and goaltending has slipped slightly. (They gave up ten goals in two games to Michigan State.) Although the Gophers have a winning conference record, that slow start could cost them a tournament bid. 

Forwards Outlook

Rem Pitlick and Tyler Sheehy are still leading the way for the Gophers offensively. The two have 33 (17g, 16a)  and 32 (8g, 24a) points, respectively, through 27 games. Besides Pitlick and Sheehy, Brent Gates Jr. (22 points), Brannon McManus (20 points), and Sammy Walker (18 points) are each having solid seasons and have helped the Gophers increase their offensive production. Back in January, the Gophers were ranked 34th in scoring with 2.70 GPG. In the eight games since their first meeting with Penn State, Minnesota has averaged an even four goals per game. That turnaround is one of the biggest reasons the Gophers are sitting second in the Big Ten Standings and, as always, pose a very serious threat.

Defensive Outlook

Senior Jack Sadek still leads in production for the defensive group of the Gophers. He has 12 points, 37 shots, and a -10 plus/minus. Tyler Nanne and Ben Brinkman have also been strong this season and have helped lead a defense that has spent most of the season waiting for the offense to wake up. Ironically, Minnesota's defense has taken a step back since the new year. They game up five goals twice against Michigan State, and four goals in three of four games against Wisconsin and Michigan. Performances like that won't be good enough if Minnesota hopes to earn its way into the NCAA tournament.

Goaltender Outlook

After splitting time with Eric Schierhorn early in the season, Mat Robson has taken control of the starting position, playing in all but one of the Gophers games since the break. He has a respectable 2.85 GAA and .921 save percentage (.921 is good for third in the Big Ten). Robson isn't a particularly flashy goalie, but with solid defense in front of him, he can definitely steal a game or two on the road.

Keys to a Penn State Win

For all intents and purposes, Penn State's playoffs started in Madison Square Garden two weeks ago. Thankfully Evan Barratt, Liam Folkes, and Alex Limoges dominated that game and set Penn State on the right track to fix the season (being the Big J Journalist that I am, I'm going to ignore that Penn State had an entire seasons-worth of puck luck in one game). This weekend, it needs more of the same offensive blitzkrieg that finally showed up again in New York, and will hope that the defense can once again coerce lady luck into giving their average defense a boost the way she did against Michigan. Hopefully the bye week helped to get everyone healthy and didn't cause the team to lose a step.

Predictions

Sam: My heart wants to say that Penn State can sweep the Gophers but the difference between last year's four wins in a row and this year is that defense, and I just don't see it being able to slow down the Gopher offense enough to get two wins. There's very a good reason Penn State is last in the Big Ten standings, and it can be pretty well summed up by Penn State's 56th ranking in goals allowed per game. The usuals will put the puck in the net for Penn State and keep it close. Minnesota wins Game 1(4-3), and Penn State gets Game 2 (6-4). 

Kaitlyn: The last time Minny came to Hockey Valley, the Gophers dropped four-straight games to the Nittany Lions in embarrassing fashion. That was also when Penn State still had Trevor Hamilton on the blue line and a million fewer issues plaguing it on defense. Minnesota has been underwhelming this season, but have recently caught fire. It’s also excellent on the power play, clicking at a 50 percent rate (!) through its past four games. And that’s even including its few hot scorers that’ll no doubt give Penn State fits. These two split earlier in the season on big ice, and I’m thinking they’ll split again. Look for the Barratt line and Brandon Biro to have their typical impact on offense. Lions take Game 1 (5-4) and lose Game 2 (6-4).

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