The Minnesota Golden Gophers hockey team returns to Pegula Arena for the first time since the Penn State Nittany Lions won four consecutive games over Minnesota last spring. The Gophers will try and enact some revenge this weekend on the Nittany Lions for effectively ending their season a year ago, but it will not be easy.
The Gophers come into the start of a four game road stretch off of a home sweep against Michigan last weekend. Minnesota dropped the first game 4-2 on Friday before picking up a 4-3 win on Saturday. For the third week in a row the Gophers earned the Big Ten’s #1 Star of the Week. This week the honor went to Rem Pitlick who recorded five points on two goals and three assists in the series against the Wolverines. He has recorded at least one point in 17 of his last 18 games and leads the Gophers with 17 goals and 33 points on the season. His 33 points rank him sixth nationally. Pitlick has goals in his last six games and eight of his last nine and will hope to continue that stretch against the Nittany Lions.
The Gophers remained in second place in the Big Ten following their split and first place Ohio State’s sweep of Notre Dame. The Gophers have 27 points on the season. They trail the Buckeyes by eight points—and really that ship has sailed. The bigger race for the Gophers will be to try and hold on to one of the three first round home ice spots for the Big Ten Tournament. Minnesota leads the third place Irish by two points, but Notre Dame has one game in hand. The rest of the conference is right on their heels as the two Michigan schools each have 24 points with the Wolverines also having a game in hand. Wisconsin is in 6th place with 22 points, and the Nittany Lions are currently in the cellar with 20 points, but both Wisconsin and PSU hold two games in hand over the Gophers. A sweep by the Nittany Lions would but the Gophers in a very difficult spot as they enter the last few weeks of the regular season.
The key once again for the Gophers will be excelling on special teams. Minnesota’s power play went 4-for-11 in the series against Michigan while the penalty kill was a perfect 12-for-12. The Gophers continue lead the Big Ten in both statistics, and rank fifth in the nation on the power play and 11th on the penalty kill. The Gophers have scored a power play goal in seven strength games and 10 of their last 12—and will need to continue to take advantage of any possibilities they get. They have not given up a power play goal in five straight games.
Expect Mat Robson to get the start in net on Friday, but if he is not amazing I would not be surprised to see Eric Schierhorn see the net on Saturday. Gopher coach Bob Motzko said earlier in the week that Schierhorn probably would have started last Saturday had he not come down with a terrible case of the flu. He did not dress on Friday night against the Wolverines, but did on Saturday.
About Penn State:
The #18 ranked Nittany Lions are coming into the weekend with the Gophers off of a week off. They last played two weekends ago splitting a series with the Wolverines. Evan Barratt leads PSU with 35 points and 15 goals on the season. He did not play in the series against Minnesota in January doe to an injury he suffered playing for the US Junior National Team. However, in his four games against the Gophers he has has success with four goals and an assist. Alex Limoges is second on the team with 33 points and he also is a Gopher killer. He has four goals and five assists in just eight games against Minnesota. Denis Smirnov also has been a thorn in the Gophers heel with seven goals and seven assists in 13 games against Minnesota.
Penn State has an incredibly high powered offense but has struggled defensively. They allow 3.77 goals per game ranking them 56th out of 60 teams in the country. Four goals ins the magic total. When allowing four or more goals the Nittany Lions are just 3-10-1 on the season, including a loss to the Gophers in January. However, when PSU holds their opponents to 3 goals or less they are 11-0-1 on the season—including a win over the Gophers in January. Coincidentally the Gophers are 11-0 on the season when they score 4 or more goals. #Synergy.
Split. Again. With the two Michigan schools playing this weekend and then the Wolverines playing their game in hand against the Irish on Tuesday night we should have a much clearer picture of the Big Ten standings by Tuesday night. If the Gophers can come away with at least three points this weekend they should be still sitting ok. A sweep by PSU and Minnesota may need to try and steal some points at first place Ohio State next weekend. Hold on to you hats....
HOW TO WATCH:
Minnesota Golden Gophers @ #18 Penn State Nittany Lions
Where: Pegula Arena, University Park, Pennsylvania
When: 5PM Friday/Saturday
Radio: 1130 AM/ 103.5 FM/ I Heart Radio App