The Minnesota Gophers used a big home sweep of Notre Dame last weekend to jump back into the #1 spot in the nation once again, but will be tested right away by one of the hottest teams in the nation. Penn State comes into 3M Arena at Mariucci having not lost a game in regulation yet this season and are their usual high powered offensive juggernaut. Minnesota will need to slow them down and take control of the game to stay at #1 a second week in a row.
As Minnesota was sweeping Notre Dame at home, Penn State was at home taking on the previous #1 team in the nation in Michigan. The Nittany Lions took it right to them on Friday night shutting them out 3-0. Michigan thought they would cruise in Game 2 going up 3-0 early in the second period, but PSU came back tying the game at 3 before the Wolverines got the game winner in overtime to blemish PSU’s record for the line time this season. So now the Nittany Lions get their second consecutive weekend against a top ranked school.
Penn State is led by a senior heavy lineup. RPI transfer Ture Linden leads the Nittany Lions with 11 points on the season, while senior Kevin Wall has 10 points and leads the team with 6 goals. Wall has been the PSU player with the most career success against the Gophers as he has five goals and five assists in 11 career games against Minnesota.
In net, the Nittany Lions have ridden junior Liam Souliere. He has been amazing in the early portion of the season for the Nittany Lions entering the series against the Gophers with a 7-1 record, a goals against average of 1.63 and a save percentage of .937. he had a pair of shutouts on the season including against the Wolverines last weekend. But, Minnesota has had success against him in his career. In three starts against the Gophers he is 0-3-0 with a 2.74 goals-against average and a .907 save percentage.
The Gophers will need another great weekend from their goalie like they had last weekend. The Big Ten 2nd Star of the Week, Justen Close stopped all but one Irish shot to earn the sweep. He’s a perfect 3-0 against Penn State in his career with the most recent win a 3-2 victory in the Big Ten Semifinal last March.
After struggling with Penn State for a few season, Minnesota is now 6-3-1 in their last ten games against the Nittany Lions and are 13-6 all time at home in games between the two schools. Minnesota was 4-1 against PSU last season and is on a four game winning streak after dropping the season series opener between the two teams in October a year ago. Penn State is 1-4 all time against a team ranked #1 in the nation with their lone win coming last weekend over Michigan. Two of those losses are to the Gophers in a series at Penn State in 2014.
This series will come down to who can control offensive play and who can keep the puck out of their net. Penn State is averaging 4.30 goals per game this season to rank second in the Big Ten and fourth in the nation while Minnesota ranks third in the Big Ten and tied for seventh in the nation averaging 3.80 goals per game. The Nittany Lions are allowing just 2 goals per game on defense as well, while the Gophers are giving up 2.4 goals per game. Minnesota’s non-conference schedule was significantly tougher however as PSU played Canisius, Mercyhurst and St. Thomas instead of Minnesota State and North Dakota. One big advantage for the Gophers will be the power play. PSU has been horrible on the man advantage this season converting at just a 13.33% rate. Minnesota’s penalty kill did not allow a power play goal to Notre Dame in five attempts last weekend reversing a trend that had been troublesome for the Gophers.
It should be an exciting series of hockey at 3M at Mariucci Arena this weekend. The series is pushed to Thursday/Friday to avoid a conflict with the Gophers home football game against Northwestern on Saturday.
HOW TO WATCH:
#7/8 Penn State Nittany Lions @ #1 Minnesota Gophers
Where:3M Arena at Mariucci, Minneapolis, MN
When: 7 Pm Thursday/ Friday
TV: Thurs: Bally Sports North; Fri: Bally Sports North Extra
Stream: Ballysports.com / BTN+ ($$)
Radio: 1130 AM/1043.5 FM/ I Heart Radio App