Michigan Hockey: Penn State at Michigan — Preview
Next Three Games At Yost
What: #10 Michigan Wolverines (14-9-3) (6-5-1-1, 3rd) Vs. Penn State Nittany Lions (5-19-2) (1-10-1-0, 6th)
When: Friday 2/21 6:30 p.m. & Saturday 2/22, 7:00 p.m. Yost Ice Arena, Ann Arbor, Mi.
TV/Radio: BTN (Friday) FSD+ (Saturday) & The Michigan Hockey IMG Radio Network (1050 a.m. Al Randall, Bill Trainor) www.mgoblue.com for gametracker and streaming.
If you missed the quick updates provided here on GBMWolverine last weekend, the Maize & Blue traveled up to Minnesota and lost both games of their series, 5-3 and 4-1.
The Friday night game featured a high flying, wide open affair on the Olympic size ice that saw the Gophers jump out to 3-0 lead deep into the second period. Michigan got back into the game on goals by Andrew Copp and JT Compher, but could not even the score. The Gophers sealed a tight 4-3 game in the dying moments of the third period to skate off with the victory.
On Saturday, the Wolverines responded well and took an early lead on Andrew Sinelli’s first goal of the season. Minnesota tied the game late in the period after Michigan could not bury any more chances. The Gophers pulled away in the second period although the score was not indicative of how well Michigan played.
Michigan’s freshman defender Michael Downing was sent off on both nights with majors for contact to the head and will sit out the Friday night game against Penn State. Fellow defenseman Andrew Sinelli will also sit out Friday after a crosscheck to the throat that he gave a Minnesota forward in a scrum late in Saturday’s game. Both suspensions were given by the B1G Ten conference.
Steve Racine started and lost both games. Racine looked a bit flustered, over committing his side to side movement, and gave up some rather weak five hole goals. But, in fairness, he did make some other fantastic stops that kept Michigan in both games.
The Wolverines will seek revenge against the Gophers on their return visit to Yost arena in March for the last regular season series for both teams.
Maybe this series will be different, maybe it won’t be. A few weeks back I warned Michigan fans that traveling to play a loose Penn State in their home rink could pose to be dangerous. As it turned out, Michigan split the series and lost key forward Alex Guptill (8-9-17) in the second game due to injury. He also sat out last weekend’s games with Minnesota and questionable for this weekend. Penn State capitalized on sloppy defensive play and poor goaltending in those games. Home cooking may be the secret for Michigan to expose the Nittany Lions in an environment they have not ventured into.
Just the same, Michigan has to somehow penetrate the defensive scheme that PSU uses, similar to how MSU plays. That is, they build a wall around their netminder and block a ton of shots. When they do get through, Mathew Skoff (5-9-2, 3.0233 GAA, .901 Sv%) has been very sharp in net. He shut out Michigan in Hockey Valley and will come into Yost with confidence.
The Lions rely on a relentless physical forecheck that creates chances down low. As I mentioned in my previous preview of the Lions, they shoot from every space on the ice and usually outshoot their opponents. Sophomore Eric Schied (11-8-19) is a gifted forward supported by fellow sophomore defender Luke Juha (4-10-14). Three other forwards share 12 points each. The Lions are not timid on the road, but they don’t seem to have the same puck luck, as they have only won one game out of nine but several of those games were one goal games. One small stat that stands out: once they grab the lead in the first period, they are tough to overcome, going 3-4 so far this season, including the three spot they put up on Michigan that held up.
Michigan is trying to get back from a three game skid that started at Penn State. They will enjoy three straight games at home, including this series and the first game of a home and home series with Ohio State next weekend. Six of their last eight games are at Yost, so if there is a time to make a push in the conference it is now. Freshman JT Compher continues to surprise with his skill and grit, posting an 11-15-27 total so far to pace the Wolverines. Copp (13-9-22) leads the team in goals. Guptill (17 points) Luke Moffatt (16 points), Captain Mac Bennett (2-12-14) and Phil Di Giuseppe (5-9-14) round out the top points makers.
Goaltending is now being split between Zach Nagelvoort (10-6-2, 2.12 GAA, .930 Sv. %) and Steve Racine (4-3-1, 3.07 GAA, .915 Sv. %) since the last meeting with PSU. Chances are either could get a start this weekend. Nagelvoort is still 14th overall in GAA and 13th overall in save %.
The biggest concern right now is the loose defensive habits that have developed in the last ten games. Michigan’s early success was predicated on using their speed to neutralize opponent chances and offer support to a rather young defensive corps. The offense was sacrificed to do that, so the balance between the two has become tilted more towards boosting scoring. This has exposed not only the three freshmen on the blueline, but the upperclassmen that have played rather pedestrian and have not contributed offensively.
The good news is, the offense is starting to get more scoring from the bottom lines and, outside of Kevin Lohan, and there have not been significant injuries other than Alex Guptill two weeks ago. (Guptill suffered an apparent shoulder injury and missed last week but was not ruled out this week.)
If you are purely looking at the numbers in this match-up, Michigan holds an offensive edge (2.81 GPG vs. 2.23 GPG) and a large defensive edge (2.50 GPG vs. 3.73 GPG.) Michigan has slipped nationally in both categories, but is still 15th in defense. The PP is starting to come back, clicking at an 18.56% (25th) rate vs. PSU’s 17.02% (40th). The PK is back to a semi-acceptable percentage for Michigan at 82.7% (22nd) compared to the Lion’s 42nd ranked 17.02%. Penn State averages more penalty time, but also has scored four SHG’s this season compared to Michigan’s three- all by Compher.
The general consensus is that Michigan is still sore from that sweep last week and the embarrassing loss PSU handed them prior to that. Michigan will have to overcome the loss of two defensemen (Mike Chiasson will be back in the lineup Friday) but should be at full strength Saturday. The weekend hinges on the urgency to secure six points and stay close to front running Minnesota and 2nd place Wisconsin. Michigan may not blow out the Lions, but two convincing wins at home should be the tonic they need.
– Forward Zach Hyman has recorded a point in four of the last five games and appears more confident around the net. Conversely, Boo Nieves is struggling to hit the net and has probably been the least lucky forward of any of the front liners this season.
-Poll watch: Michigan stayed at the #10 spot after the Minnesota series despite being swept. Minnesota kept the #2 spot after the weekend wins at home. The Badgers moved up to #8 after their road split with Ohio State. The Wolverines remained at 10th in the PWR. Winning this weekend could keep them there, while dropping even one game to lowly PSU will severely hurt their ranking.
-Michigan’s remaining schedule: OHIO STATE, @OSU, MSU, @MSU, MINNESOTA, MINNESOTA.
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Written by GBMWolverine Staff — YostMeister
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