Know Your Enemy: No. 16 Penn State Men’s Hockey vs. Michigan State
No. 16 Penn State men’s hockey (13-12-5, 6-9-5 Big Ten) will return to action this weekend when it takes on Michigan State in East Lansing.
The numbers show Michigan State is at the bottom of the Big Ten standings and the only team in the conference that is not ranked nationally, but this weekend’s series will not be a cakewalk by any means. Although the Spartans have struggled in Big Ten play throughout the season, they still boast one of the most underrated forward duos in college hockey and are definitely capable of pulling off an upset.
Michigan State (10-18-2, 4-14-2 Big Ten) will certainly be disappointed with how the 2017-18 season has gone in terms of results, but there are bright spots scattered throughout the roster.
The biggest positive for the Spartans this season has been the emergence of wingers Taro Hirose and Mitchell Lewandowski. Hirose and Lewandowski are two of the better forwards in the Big Ten as they have regularly teamed up on Michigan State’s top line. Hirose and Lewandowski have put up 33 and 28 points, respectively, in 30 games played. Their center — Patrick Khodorenko — is not far behind with 25 points of his own.
That said, the Spartans’ other nine forwards have struggled to supplement the top line’s production with secondary scoring. Lewandowski, Hirose, and Khodorenko have combined to score 35 goals this season; the rest of the roster is only responsible for 37. Alternate captain Sam Saliba is the leading scorer outside the top line with just six goals. The stats clearly show the Spartans are a bit of a one-trick pony when it comes to scoring goals.
Meanwhile, Carson Gatt is the team’s rock on the back end. The senior defenseman leads the team’s defense with 17 points and 56 blocked shots in 30 games played. Michigan State as a whole has allowed 3.1 goals per game this season and has been heavily outshot by its opponents. The team allows just fewer than 30 shots on goal per game, but has only mustered an average of 25.5 shots on goal per game of its own.
Expect goaltender John Lethemon to get the start in goal for both games this weekend — the sophomore has started in 27 of the Spartans’ 30 games so far this season. He’s posted a 10-16-2 record with a respectable 2.71 goals-against average and .907 save percentage this season.
Although Michigan State is rooted to the bottom spot in the Big Ten standings, Guy Gadowsky’s Nittany Lions cannot overlook the Spartans. If Penn State gets complacent, the deadly combination of Taro Hirose, Mitchell Lewandowski, and Patrick Khodorenko can put on a show and change the tide of this series.
The Nittany Lions are a desperate but well-rested team entering their final away series of the 2017-18 season. The team enters play on a seven-game winless streak after dropping five out of six points to No. 1 Notre Dame on February 2 and 3, but is also coming off of its bye week.
Michigan State’s weaknesses when it comes to secondary scoring and defense should be exposed at Munn Ice Arena. We all know what Penn State is capable of when it comes to putting the puck in the back of the net. Expect goals — and lots of them — this weekend.
Penn State last took on Michigan State in NOvember, taking five out of six points from the Spartans at Pegula Ice Arena. Guy Gadowsky’s squad took game one of the series in dominant fashion and followed up that effort with a shootout victory to clinch the series.
It’s crunch time for Penn State. The Nittany Lions have four games remaining to try and salvage at least one home game in the Big Ten tournament, but I expect them to rise to the occasion and pick up a much-needed sweep to get back on track.