After an off weekend of well-deserved rest and preparation, the No. 19 Spartans are primed to pull ahead at the top of the Big Ten standings.
As the final month of the regular season begins and with just one point separating the top five teams in the Big Ten, each weekend series holds a little more weight. Michigan State (13-12-1, 9-6-1) will travel to Minneapolis to play the red-hot Minnesota Golden Gophers (12-10-4, 7-5-4) and battle for six critical points in the conference standings. Minnesota has won its last five straight and seven of the last eight, sweeping both Ohio State and Wisconsin to vault themselves into contention for first place. Led by forward Brannon McManus, the Gophers have outscored opponents 20-8 in their last four games. McManus has four goals and five assists in that span.
The Spartans have split their last three series’ in the Big Ten, including a home matchup against the Golden Gophers in early January, winning 4-1 in the first game then falling 2-0. On the road against Minnesota, the Spartans are 17-62-8 all-time and they have not won an away game in Minneapolis since November of 2018.
The Spartans will look to their senior leaders in goaltender John Lethemon and forward Patrick Khodorenko. Lethemon brings his nation-highest .943 save percentage into the weekend. His 1.88 GAA ranks seventh in the nation and first in the Big Ten, while his five shutouts rank second and first. Lethemon’s current save percentage is second in school history only to Ryan Miller’s .950 in the ‘00-’01 season, in which he won the Hobey Baker award. Khodorenko leads the offense with 14 goals and 28 points. His 28 points are good for third in the conference. Khodorenko has eight points in his last six games, including a hat trick against Penn State before the bye week.
With eight games remaining, the clock is ticking for the Spartans to improve on their No. 20 position in the Pairwise rankings used to determine NCAA tournament bids. Minnesota sits at No. 18 in the Pairwise.
Michigan State and Minnesota are tied in third place with Notre Dame at 28 points. Ohio State and Penn State are tied for first with 29. Both Michigan State and Minnesota, however, have two games in hand, each with 16 games played to the rest of the competition’s 18 games played. With Penn State and Ohio State facing each other, this weekend’s results will shape the remainder of the season.
IN THE BIG TEN:
Penn State v. Ohio State
The Nittany Lions (17-9-2, 9-7-2) will travel to Columbus to play the Buckeyes (16-9-3, 9-7-2) twice in a weekend matchup. The two teams are tied for first in the conference with 29 points. Both have played 18 games, two more than Michigan State, Minnesota, and Michigan. Last weekend, Penn State played Notre Dame, tying 3-3 but losing the extra point in the shootout and losing 4-2 in game two. Ohio State split a series against Michigan in Ann Arbor.
Michigan v. Wisconsin
Michigan will play host at Yost as both the Wolverines (11-12-3, 6-8-2) and Badgers (10-15-1, 5-12-1) look to crawl out of the Big Ten basement. Michigan and Wisconsin are 6th and 7th in the Big Ten with 21 and 17 points, respectively. Michigan, with two games in hand on the majority of the conference, can pull themselves into contention with a sweep. Last weekend, the Wolverines split with Ohio State at home while the Badgers were swept at home by Minnesota.
The Fighting Irish are tied for third in the Big Ten with Michigan State and Minnesota and have a bye week this weekend. The Irish tied Penn State 3-3 and earned the extra point in the shootout then won 4-2 in the second matchup.