Penn State Hockey vs. Michigan: Lions Hoping to Break Into the Win Column

By Michael Green on December 2, 2020 at 9:30 am
Penn State forward Aarne Talvitie (20) celebrates with the Roar Zone after the game against Niagara at Pegula Ice Arena on Friday, Oct. 19, 2018. No. 10 Penn State won 8-2.
Linsey Fagan, Roar Lions Roar
Michigan Wolverines
4-2-0 (2-2 B1G)
6:00 p.m. EST – WEDNESDAY, DEC. 2
Pegula Ice Arena
6:00 p.m. EST – THURSDAY, DEC. 3
Pegula Ice Arena
Game 2: BTN+ ($) | GAMETRACKER
Read: Kevin Wall is Red Hot

After a brutal road trip to start the season, Penn State finally gets to play a home game. A four-game swing through Minneapolis and Madison led to four-straight losses, but now the Nittany Lions get the chance to turn things around on their home ice.

Last year, Michigan proved to be a thorn in Penn State's side during a season in which Guy Gadowsky's team didn't have to deal with too many thorns. Now, he brings a squad that looks wildly different up against a Wolverine team that is absolutely stacked with high-end NHL prospects.

After an 0-4 start, the big question for the Nittany Lions will be how they are able to bounce back and find their footing despite their inexperience and without the Roar Zone giving them the element of the 7th man on the ice in Pegula.

Still, with No. 7 Michigan coming off a pair of one-goal home losses to Notre Dame, perhaps this is as good a time as any for Penn State to strike and upset their opponent en-route to its first win of the 2020-21 campaign.

Last season vs Michigan

Last Season Overall Comparison
  Overall Record Big Ten Record GF GA PP% PK% Pairwise Ranking
Penn State 23-10-4 12-8-4 3.56 2.59 27.1% 87.5% 7
Michigan 18-14-4 11-10-3 2.72 2.00 19.1% 84.3% 14




Last Season Head to Head
  Record GF AVG PP% PK%
Penn State 1-2-1 8 2.00 16.7% 88.9%
Michigan 2-1-1 15 3.75 11.1% 83.3%

The Wolverines gave the Lions fits last season. Penn State went into Ann Arbor and split the first series. Michigan won the first game by a score of 4-1 and the visitors took the second game 3-1. The series in Pegula Ice Arena wasn’t as kind. Michigan dominated the opener 6-0. The second game was officially a 4-4 tie but Michigan secured the extra Big Ten point by scoring during the 3-on-3 overtime session.

Things won’t be any easier this time around. Back for Michigan is goaltender Strauss Mann, who held Penn State a goal and a half below its per-game average in 2019-20. More importantly, gone are the guys who scored seven of the eight goals the Lions managed to put past Mann a year ago.

offensive comparison

The Wolverines lost their top three scorers to graduation from what was a fairly average offense last season but have the star power and newcomers to take a step forward anyway.

When it comes to NHL Draft pedigree, the Wolverine offense has it in spades. The team's leading returning scorer, sophomore defenseman Cam York, is a first-round pick of the Philadelphia Flyers. Johnny Beecher, a Boston Bruins first-rounder, also returns for his sophomore season. On top of that, Vegas Golden Knights first-round pick Brendan Brisson and San Jose Sharks second-round pick Thomas Bordeleau join a dangerous group on the attack.

Despite those notable names, through six games, Michigan is led in scoring by undrafted freshman Kent Johnson. Bordeleau follows close behind and another undrafted freshman, Matty Beniers, trails him.

On the Lions' side, though they weren't able to snag a win in Wisconsin, they did start to pick things up on the offensive end. Kevin Wall nabbed his third goal of the season. Alex Limoges added a goal and two assists, Tim Doherty scored his first goal, and Sam Sternschein picked up two assists. That front line trio needs to carry more of the load while the talented freshmen additions figure out their roles, especially against Michigan.

defensive comparison

The defense was a strength for Michigan last season and it seems to be a strength once again. As mentioned above, York returns to anchor the blue line. Also returning are sophomore Keaton Pehrson and junior Nick Blankenship. Vancouver Canucks fifth-round pick Jacob Truscott and potential No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 NHL Draft Owen Power are the freshman additions to the talented group.

For Penn State, the defense needs to pick up its game. There have been bright spots here and there, including freshman Jimmy Dowd who assisted Limoges' only goal of the season, as well as Clayton Phillips who got on the goal sheet and added an assist.  But the reality is that this group has to play better to help out the team’s inexperienced goaltenders. Far too often against Minnesota and Wisconsin, the Nittany Lion defensemen were caught out of position and got stuck puck-watching.

goaltender comparison

Strauss Mann. Is there anything else to say? The Wolverine’s junior netminder was sixth in the nation with a 1.85 GAA as a sophomore. He was second with a .939 save percentage. He might be better this year. Through six games, he has that same .939 save percentage but has improved his GAA to 1.33.

And if for some reason Mann needs a break, his backup is Buffalo Sabres third-round pick freshman Erik Portillo. Yikes!

Just like against Minnesota, Penn State gave each of its goaltenders a game against Wisconsin. It didn’t work out. Oskar Autio allowed six goals in the first game. Liam Soulière also allowed six in the second (Wisconsin scored an empty netter to make the final 7-3). Assuming the duo continues to share the net, both will need to improve in order to give the Lions a chance.

bold prediction

Penn State has often struggled against quality goaltending. It seems as if having a brick wall in front of the goal frustrates the Lions’ offensive-minded, shoot-first-ask-questions-later game plan. To win, Penn State will have to play sound defensively and in goal and start to convert more shots into goals. Not to mention a little bit of luck. Despite the talent it has assembled, Michigan is not unbeatable, as proven by Notre Dame. We think Penn State finally puts together a solid all-around game and wins one of the two by a score of 3-2. The other game goes to Michigan 2-1.

Wednesday’s game will be televised on ESPNU at 6:00 PM.  Thursday’s game will only be available on BTN+ but also has a 6:00 faceoff. As always, follow @RLRblog on Twitter and check back here for coverage of the games.