Know Your Enemy: Penn State Men’s Hockey vs. Ohio State
After posting a sub-.500 record, Penn State men’s hockey will try to forget a disappointing regular season and focus on what’s ahead: the No. 12 Ohio State Buckeyes.
The Buckeyes are not the team they once were. Ohio State has lost four straight games, including five of its last eight heading into game one of the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals. If the Nittany Lions want to shock the Big Ten, they’ll need to exploit the Buckeyes’ flaws and advance to the semifinals.
Here’s what to expect in the opening round of the Big Ten Tournament between the Nittany Lions and the Buckeyes.
It’s been over a month since these two teams have last faced off, and both have had their fair share of struggles since then. The Nittany Lions have won just one game in six attempts while being outscored 24-13. The Buckeyes, meanwhile, have won just two out of their six games in that span, too.
Despite both the Nittany Lions and the Buckeyes limping their way into the tournament, both teams know that they must play their best if they hope to advance.
In the four games in which these two teams have faced off, Penn State owns just a 1-3 record, including a disastrous 6-0 loss at home in late January. The Buckeyes have outscored the Nittany Lions 17-4 across the four games.
The first series between these two teams came all the way back in early November just as Penn State was coming off its biggest win of the season, a 6-4 win against No. 6 North Dakota. In the first game of the series, Ohio State used a three-goal third period to down the Nittany Lions 5-2. Liam Souliere struggled in net, allowing five goals on just 27 shots. Game two was much of the same for the Nittany Lions, who struggled once again to keep the puck out of their net en route to a 4-1 loss.
Unlike this upcoming series, when the two teams faced off January 28, both Penn State and Ohio State entered the game riding hot streaks. Penn State had just swept Wisconsin while the Buckeyes were on the high of being ranked in the top 15.
The series opener of that late January series was perhaps the most dominant the Nittany Lions have looked all year. From puck drop, Penn State was the more aggressive team, leading to more scoring chances in the offensive zone than Ohio State. Liam Souliere was excellent, turning in his best performance in what looked like a potential turning point for the program, a 3-2 shootout win over the Buckeyes.
Unfortunately, it seemed as if that exhilarating win was all Penn State had in the tank for the weekend. Ohio State skated laps around the Nittany Lions in game two, dominating them in every facet of the game. Starting goaltender Oskar Autio played his worst game of the year and allowed six goals in an embarrassing shutout loss.
Anything can happen in the tournament, but based on how the season series went, Penn State’s run in the bracket might be short-lived.
Keys To The Game
If the Nittany Lions wish to leave Columbus victorious and advance in the tournament, they need big performances out of their starting netminders.
We know that it will be Liam Souliere between the pipes in game one. In his last outing against the Buckeyes, Souliere was terrific. The sophomore goalie allowed just two goals on 30 shots in Penn State’s electrifying shootout win on January 28. Since then, Souliere has been less than terrific, allowing 14 goals on 121 shots, a save percentage of just .884. In that span, Souliere has managed one win while losing three.
If the Nittany Lions get any other version of Souliere that’s not the one who beat Ohio State, it’s going to be a quick tournament exit for the Nittany Lions.
What seemed like a big factor all year is Penn State’s special teams struggle Penalty numbers have gone down since the beginning of the season, but they’re still far too high given what is on the line for Penn State. In addition to the penalty kill, the Nittany Lions also boast an extremely low conversion rate on power plays.
Despite its recent struggles and poor special teams, Ohio State is still too good of a team to get away with committing costly penalties against. On the season, Ohio State’s power-play numbers are abysmal, scoring on just over 15% of its man advantages. The only problem is that Penn State’s numbers are just as bad, scoring on just 17% of power-play opportunities.
It’s very likely that neither team will score on the power play this weekend, but it’s also very likely that the stronger special teams unit could have a major impact on the outcome of this series.
Winning the series for Penn State would mean winning two out of three on the road against a far superior opponent. It’s just hard to see that happening.
While the Nittany Lions did beat Ohio State once this season, it took their toughest effort and arguably best performance of the year. Penn State needs to be nearly flawless for every minute of the series. Based on the way the last few weeks have gone, we’d expect the Nittany Lions’ stay in Columbus to be a short one.
We’ll go with Ohio State winning 4-3 in game one, followed by the Buckeyes closing the series out with a 5-2 win in game two.
The Nittany Lions will hit the ice to begin the Big Ten Tournament on Friday, March 4, and Saturday, March 5. They’ll head to Columbus to face No. 12 Ohio State at 7 p.m. on both nights in a best-of-three series. Should a third game be necessary, the two teams would face off at 8 p.m. on Sunday, March 6.
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