Hockey Preview: Penn State at Michigan State

By Michael Green on January 3, 2021 at 12:47 pm
Penn State Hockey opens its second-half slate against Michigan State in East Lansing on Sunday.
Penn State Athletics
Michigan State Spartans
3-3-2 (2-3-1 B1G)
3:00 p.m. ET – SUNDAY, JAN. 3
3:00 p.m. ET – MONDAY, JAN. 4
Read: Full Schedule Released

Penn State went into the holiday break on a three-game winning streak. They hope to continue the streak as they head to East Lansing for a pair of games against Michigan State on Sunday and Monday afternoons. 

The Spartans have struggled to score goals so far this season. But they did put up their highest-scoring game to date last time out in a 4-3 overtime win over Notre Dame.

This series will come down to whether or not Penn State can continue to build on the chemistry that was just starting to come together prior to the break. And whether or not Michigan State can score enough goals to support its strong defense and an outstanding goaltender.

Last Season vs. Michigan State

  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 state 15-19-2 11-11-2 2.22 2.44 17.2% 81.3% 28




  record GF ga PP% PK%
Penn state 2-2-0 2.50 2.75 14.3% 70.0%
Michigan state 2-2-0 2.75 2.50 30.0% 85.7%

Despite each team's place in the final standings last season – Michigan State finished sixth while the Nittany Lions on top of the conference trophy – the Spartans were no easy out for Penn State. The teams split both pairs of games. And for the most part, the Spartans forced the Lions into the low-scoring, defensive style of game they prefer.

So far this season, it appears to be more of the same for Sparty. Through its first seven games, MSU managed to score three goals in a game just once – a 3-2 overtime win over the Buckeyes in Columbus. Even in Game Eight, when they finally "lit up the scoreboard" with four goals, it still took overtime to get number four.

If Penn State hopes to have success, it will need to play its game and not the style Michigan State hopes to play. The Lions will need to possess the puck, get shots on the net, and have guys in tight looking for rebounds. If not, the Spartans will grind away, force shots from the perimeter, and look to take advantage of any little mistakes.

offensive comparison

These two teams could not be more opposite.

Through eight games, Michigan State has scored just 16 goals – an average of two per game (less than two per 60 minutes if overtime is taken into account). Charlie Combs (3-3-6) and Josh Nodler (0-6-6) are tied for the team lead in scoring with six points apiece. Nicolas Muller (1-4-5) and Mitchell Lewandowski (2-3-5) have chipped in with five points each.

Penn State, on the other hand, has put up 27 goals in eight games despite its early struggles. Alex Limoges leads the team with five goals and nine points. Kevin Wall, Tim Doherty, and Aarne Talvitie each have three goals. Connor MacEachern leads the Lions with five assists.

defensive comparison

These two teams could not be more opposite.

Michigan State has been holding teams to less than two goals per game this season. In half of their games, they've held their opponent to two goals or less including a shutout. The most goals they have allowed is four. Their blue line is led by junior Dennis Cesana, who has scored 20+ points each of his first two seasons, and the Krygier twins, both juniors and both NHL seventh-round draft picks.

Penn State has allowed 34 goals on the young season – an average of over four per game. The team has improved though. After allowing 20 goals to Minnesota and Wisconsin in its first four games, the Lions have "only" allowed 14 goals over its last four contests. The defensive pairings seem to have settled in some as well with Clayton Phillips and Paul DeNaples as the top pairing. 

goaltender comparison

Wait for it....these two teams could not be more opposite.

Junior Drew DeRidder has played every minute in net for the Spartans. He has an exceptional 1.96 goals-against average and an equally astounding .940 save percentage. Penn State has faced talented goalies already this season and, in fact, put up its best scoring game of the season against Michigan's Strauss Mann. But it may need to find an even higher gear to beat DeRidder.

Penn State has mostly shared the net through eight games. Oskar Autio has started five games and Liam Soulière started the other three. Just when it appeared Autio had perhaps won the competition to get most of the starts, Soulière played his best game of the season in the 5-4 overtime win over Arizona State in the final game before the break.

Neither has put up great numbers, but both have shown flashes of what could be if they get on a roll. Autio's numbers have been slightly better – 3.80 to 4.36 GAA and .864 to .860 save percentage – but it's difficult to choose a clear favorite based on the play of each to date. Expect the two to alternate until one gets the hot hand and wins more playing time.

bold prediction

Penn State has had its share of issues against this type of team. The Lions seem to get frustrated when they have difficulty scoring goals. And Michigan State is that type of team. Penn State likely won't need to score nine goals as it did against Michigan to beat the Spartans. But it will need to make DeRidder feel uneasy in the net. Penn State will also need to reduce its own mistakes and not allow Sparty to pick up any cheap goals. Coming out of the break, Penn State needs to come out strong and I think they do just that. Penn State wins a pair of close games 3-2 and 4-3.

Both games (Sunday and Monday) are at 3:00 PM and both will only be available on BTN+. As always, follow @RLRblog on Twitter and check back here for coverage of the games.