After two weekends away from home, Penn State men’s hockey will return to Pegula Ice Arena for a Big Ten series with Michigan State.
The Nittany Lions are coming off their first series sweep of the 2017-18 season over Arizona State, outscoring the Sun Devils 11-2 over the course of the two games. This weekend, the Spartans come to Happy Valley boasting a 7-5-0 record.
When looking at Michigan State’s schedule, one thing that stands out is the team’s struggles in conference play so far. Of its seven victories, just one came against a Big Ten opponent: a shutout over No. 9 Wisconsin two weeks ago. With that being said, the Spartans’ first two conference series came against the 6th and 9th best teams in the country: Minnesota and Wisconsin.
The Spartans will return to conference action this weekend after a sweep away from home against Ferris State. The second game of the series marked their third straight victory, so Michigan State will certainly have some momentum entering this weekend’s set with Penn State.
Up front, Michigan State has generated a decent amount of offense through 12 games, but the offensive load is not spread evenly throughout the lineup. Freshman forward Mitch Lewandowski has led the charge so far this year, leading the team with nine goals and 17 points so far. He has played his way onto the Spartans’ top line alongside sophomores Taro Hirose and Patrick Khodorenko.
Despite Lewandowski’s early-season success, nobody else on the team has recorded more than four goals. Khodorenko and Hirose have four and three, respectively, but they have combined for 19 assists with the freshman on their right wing.
As far as the back end is concerned, Michigan State has conceded 32 goals so far this year. The team’s top pairing of senior Carson Gatt and freshman Tommy Miller has been solid so far this year, but the offensive production from this pairing is very lopsided. Gatt has nine points on the season, compared to Miller’s two. Both have played in all 12 of the Spartans’ games so far.
One notable weakness for Michigan State is the penalty kill, which is currently operating at a 78% conversion rate. The Spartan penalty kill has given up ten goals on 47 power plays, a number that head coach Danton Cole would certainly like to see increase.
In goal, sophomore John Lethemon has taken over the starting role, starting ten out of his team’s first 12 games. He has a strong 7-3-0 record and his last appearance was a 38-save shutout over No. 9 Wisconsin. Backup goalie Spencer Wright has lost each of his first two starts this year, allowing over seven goals per game in those two appearances.
Michigan State’s start to the season is extremely similar to Penn State’s. Although the Spartans have played one more series than Penn State, these two teams are very similar on paper.
One big difference between the teams is Michigan State’s struggles away from home; the Spartans are 1-4-0 away from the Munn so far, a stark contrast from their 6-1 record at the Munn in East Lansing.
Penn State should feel confident heading into this weekend’s series, mostly because of Michigan State’s struggles away from home and the Nittany Lions’ momentum from last weekend’s series.
Entering this series, Michigan State has won just one game away from home all season and a struggling penalty kill, but it also is riding a hot goalie coming off of a shutout over a conference rival ranked in the top ten nationally.
This series has ‘split’ written all over it.