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Hockey Preview: Road Series at Penn State

Spartans look for their first road win on the season at Pegula Ice Arena

Christian Petersen

This weekend the Michigan State Spartan hockey team will play at Penn State for the first time in program history. On the season the Spartans are winless in road games, with a record of 0-7-2. After being non competitive in the five losses in 2013 the Spartans have played much better in their 2014 road series, earning shootout victories over B1G leader Minnesota and Ohio State since the calendar turned over.

The Spartans will be traveling to Happy Valley on a six game winless streak after playing to a pair of ties (and shootout losses) with Ohio State last weekend. In fact the last win for the Spartans was against the Nittany Lions on January 18, which also was the last time the Spartans have scored 3 or more goals. After last weekends' pair of 2 goal games, the Spartans are now 0-12-6 when scoring less than 3 goals. Against the Buckeyes on Friday night the Spartans surrendered 2 goals in the final 3 minutes, washing out a 2-0 lead, and followed that up by losing a third period lead on Saturday. There are only 8 games remaining in the regular season for the Spartans and 5 of them will be on the road, so improving road performance better start this weekend for the Spartans to have a chance improving their standing in the B1G.

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Penn State at Michigan State - Men's Hockey Highlights (via bigtennetwork)

Penn State Nittany Lions 5-18-1 (1-9-0 B1G)

Time/TV: 6:30 Friday on BTN, 3:30 Saturday on ESPNNews

Last Series Q&A: Here

Penn State Nittany Lions Stats Match-Up (National Rank) Michigan State Spartans
2.29 (51) Goals Scored Per Game 2.19 (53)
3.88 (54) Goals Against Per Game 2.33 (10)
17.2% (38) Power Play Percentage 14.4% (49)
79.3% (45) Penalty Kill Percentage 80.6% (38)
Eric Scheid (11G 7A 18pts) Leading Scorer Greg Wolfe (11G 10A 21pts)
Matt Skoff 5-8-1 .899 save % Expected Goaltenders Jake Hildebrand 7-11-6 .933 save %

The Nittany Lions snapped a 9 game losing streak by beating the Michigan Wolverines last Saturday, 4-0 at Pegula Arena. The win marked the first conference win in Penn State history, as this is only the second season at the divison one level for the school, after playing as an independent last season. The Nittany Lions are 3-8-1 at Pegula Arena and have consistently played to sellout crowds on home ice. Last weekend freshman Zach Saar and sophomore Casey Bailey scored a goal in each game against the Wolverines. The Nittany Lions feature only one player that has scored more than 5 goals on the season, as Eric Scheid has 11 goals on the campaign.

In net for the 4-0 win last weekend, was sophomore Matthew Skoff, who was a junior hockey teammate of Spartan goalie Jake Hildebrand in Sioux City. Skoff now has three shutouts in his career and made 32 saves in that win over Michigan. Skoff played the Saturday game against the Spartans in January, losing 3-2 and making 26 saves. Penn State has struggled with goaltending and defense all season as Skoff has held teams to under 3 goals in only 4 of his 14 games that he has appeared in.

3 Keys For Spartan Success

  1. Score 3 Goals- Going to have to continue to beat this drum until the Spartans prove they can either; a) score 3 goals consistently or b) prove they can win a low scoring game. As noted above and in countless previous posts 3 goals seems to be the magic number for MSU. They are winless when scoring less than 3 and have lost only once when reaching the 3 goal plateau. Clearly the Spartans are going to finish as a bottom ten offense for the second consecutive season, yet there is no excuse for not scoring against a Penn State program that surrenders as many goals as it does. In January the Spartans swept the Nittany Lions 3-2, 3-0.
  2. Depth- Many of the offensive issues for the Spartans are tied to the fact that only one line per weekend is scoring goals. Last weekend against Ohio State it was Greg Wolfe scoring 3 goals (2 on the power play) out of a total 4 goals. In the series against Penn State in January the Spartans got scoring from three different lines, which just hasn't happened enough. Penn State sooner, rather than later will possess a deep roster with B1G level talent on it, but it isn't there quite yet. The Spartans must take advantage of this to have success this weekend.
  3. Control The 1st Period- For the first time in months, Penn State is riding the confidence of a victory. Michigan State is the more talented team and would do well to come out each night and take control of the game early. Besides the last two weekends, the Spartans have actually been a pretty good team at holding leads when they are able to get one. Taking the sellout crowd out of the games early and deflating the Nittany Lions' confidence early will be crucial to the Spartans this weekend.

Analysis- At this point in the season it is hard to feel overly confident in the Spartans pulling off a sweep, especially a sweep on the road. Hockey is a game where confidence is huge and the Nittany Lions are going to be riding a wave of confidence after registering their first league win and playing in front of their packed house. The Spartans have to be struggling with confidence, as this type of offensive futility is extremely frustrating just to watch, let alone play in. For those reasons I think Penn State wins Friday night 3-2 and the Spartans, who have displayed incredible resiliency all year, find a way to rebound for the split Saturday 3-1.

Around The B1G- Number 1 and and 2 in the B1G square off in Ann Arbor as Michigan hosts league leader Minnesota. The Gophers came back to the pack a little bit last weekend when they were swept by Wisconsin. Wisconsin will take their momentum on the road to play Ohio State.

This preview will act as the game thread for this weekends games. Stop by and interact with fellow Spartan puck fans. Keep it clean and as Chris used to say "don't feed the trolls". Go Green!