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Penn State Hockey Preview: No. 15 Nittany Lions host No. 6 Michigan

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Michigan still sucks, btw.

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
Who: University of Michigan
When: Thursday 7:00 p.m. EST, Saturday 7:00 p.m. EST
Where: Pegula Ice Arena, University Park, PA. Madison Square Garden, New York, NY
TV: Thursday: BTN2Go Plus ($). Saturday: BTN
Stream: Audio: Fri+Sat
Live Stats: Gopsusports.com

On a rare Thursday, Saturday split, Penn State (16-5-3) will face arguably their biggest test of the season thus far this weekend. The Michigan Wolverines (14-3-4) are coming to town for the always off-putting Thursday evening match before the two conference clubs head to New York to take part in a super Saturday double header with the basketball team.

Michigan is the closest Penn State has to a rivalry in the still young Big Ten. From the Nittany Lions first conference win against the Wolverines to knocking Michigan out of the Big Ten Tournament two seasons ago on an overtime upset victory, Penn State has seemingly had the upper hand on a consistently better team. That being said, Michigan comes into Pegula on Thursday having not lost a game since Dec. 12 as the sixth best team in the NCAA, according to the rankings on USCHO.com.

Penn State has been less dominant as of late, with three losses in their last eight games. However, this series might be just what the Nittany Lions need to break them out of their recent daze, as Penn State always seems to find another gear when they face off against Michigan.

Getting To Know The Wolverines

Michigan boasts the third best scorer in the NCAA in freshman Kyle Connor, the No. 17 overall pick in last year's NHL draft. Connor leads the Wolverines with 36 points and is tied for first on the team in goals with 18. Sharing that top spot with Connor is junior Tyler Motte, who rounds out the team's top three scorers with 28 points. Between Connor and Motte is junior JT Compher with 32 points on the season. His 25 assists this year is second in the NCAA behind New Hampshire's Tyler Kelleher.

Outside of those three, there is a big gap of nine points between Motte and the next highest point producer on the Wolverines so keeping the big scorers off the board will be key this series for Penn State.

What Michigan may have in offensive firepower, their goaltending this season has been subpar. The tandem of Steve Racine and Zach Nagelvoort has been solid when they've needed to be, but the numbers between them most certainly do not crack the USCHO's top 50. Racine has carried most of the load for Michigan as a senior with a .906 save percentage and a 2.96 GAA in 770-plus minutes played. Nagelvoort is a name more familar to Penn State, but his .888 save percentage and 3.14 GAA will probably keep him on the bench in such an important series.

The reason why Michigan has been able to get away with their goaltending? They lead the NCAA in offense with an average of 4.86 goals per game. The Wolverines also allow just 30.1 shots on game, so Penn State's high shooting percentage might suffer under Michigan's stout defense. Michigan also has a lethal power play that's clicking at 28.4 percent for the fourth best in the NCAA. If Penn State can combat the Wolverine offense by keeping possession like they often do, the Nittany Lions can exploit the Wolverines so-so netminding for an advantage.

Notes

  • Luke Juha is a Hobey Baker nominee. Vote for him here!
  • Thursday's game is the designated white out match. Make sure you dress accordingly!

  • There will be a rally in the HUB at noon on Friday to send the team off to New York! Free things are sure to be had.
  • I'll be making the trip up to New York for the game on Saturday! I know our own Chris Taylor is also heading up for both games, but don't be shy if you want to say hi when you see me wandering hopelessly lost navigating MSG for the first time!