Know Your Enemy: No. 11 Penn State Hockey vs. Michigan State
No. 11 Penn State men’s hockey (12-6-2, 4-5-1 Big Ten) will open its home slate for the second half of the season against Michigan State this weekend.
The Nittany Lions and Spartans will battle at 8 p.m. Friday and 7 p.m. Saturday at Pegula Ice Arena. Friday night’s game will be televised on the Big Ten Network as Penn State debuts its new alternate uniforms.
Michigan State’s 1-6-3 record at Pegula Ice Arena speaks for itself and the Spartans are currently at bottom of the Big Ten standings with 10 points this season.
Michigan State (6-11-3, 2-6-2 Big Ten) is struggling this season after finishing at the bottom of the conference standings last year.
Head coach Danton Cole’s squad got off to a great start by winning four of its first five games, but everything started to unravel during a six-game losing skid. Michigan State has won just twice since November 3, but one of those victories was a 4-2 decision over Minnesota at Mariucci.
The Spartans’ offensive attack ranks No. 38 in the country with an average of 2.7 goals per game, and the defense ranks 51st out of 60 teams with an average of 3.5 goals against per game.
Center Taro Hirose actually leads the nation in scoring with 31 points this season. Hirose’s 22 assists are the driving force behind his leading point total, and he added nine goals to boot. His line with Patrick Khodorenko and Mitchell Lewandowski is known as the “KHL” line, and it’s back together this season.
Khodorenko’s 12 goals lead the Spartans, and Lewandowski has chipped in six goals and 13 assists through 20 games. The trio of forwards has terrorized Penn State’s defense in the past, and it might have another field day against the Nittany Lions’ No. 54-ranked defense.
The “KHL” line is great, but it’s hard for a team to win with only one line producing consistently. Khodorenko, Hirose, and Lewandowski have combined for 27 of Michigan State’s 54 goals this season.
Michigan State’s defense is coming off its worst weekend of the season against Ohio State. It managed to salvage a 7-7 tie against the Buckeyes on Friday night, but got shellacked again in a 6-0 defeat the following night.
The team’s top defensive scorers this season are Dennis Cesana and Zach Osburn, who have 14 and 10 points, respectively. Jerad Rosburg isn’t far behind with nine points, and he leads the Spartans’ defensive core with a +3 rating in 20 appearances.
In goal, Michigan State has used John Lethemon and Drew DeRidder fairly evenly. Lethemon has a 4-7 record, 3.32 goals-against average, and .897 goals-against average in 11 appearances, while DeRidder’s 2-4-3 record, 3.45 goals-against average, and .898 goals-against average aren’t far behind.
The Spartans struggle to keep the puck out of its own net, which could be a problem against the highest-scoring offense in the nation this weekend.
On paper, Penn State shouldn’t have any problem sweeping Michigan State this weekend. The “KHL” line is dangerous, but Penn State has something that’s apparently eluded the Spartans this year: team depth. I think the Nittany Lions will win 4-1 on Friday night before completing the sweep with a 7-3 shellacking on Saturday.
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