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Penn State Hockey Preview: No. 14 Nittany Lions visit No. 9 Michigan

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Penn State's biggest weekend comes against their fiercest rival.

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
Who: University of Michigan
When: Friday 7:30 p.m. EST, Saturday 7:30 p.m. EST
Where: Yost Ice Arena, Ann Arbor, MI
TV: Comcast Network 900
Stream: Audio: Fri+Sat
Live Stats: Gopsusports.com


This is it, folks. The last weekend of regular hockey season for No. 14 Penn State (20-10-4) is upon us. Commanding a program best 20 wins in their few year run in Division I, the Nittany Lions head to No. 9 Michigan (20-7-5) with the same number of victories and coming off a split weekend with the Wisconsin Badgers.

Last weekend did the NIttany Lions no favors. Though they stayed in the same USCHO ranking, they dropped out of the PairWise rankings, the ones that imitate the NCAA selection committee for the 16-team tournament. Now, they're tied at the 17th spot with Minnesota and will need a strong weekend against their rivals from Michigan to get themselves back in the conversation, or have to fight through the Big Ten Tournament to get there.

Getting To Know The Wolverines

Since we last saw Michigan back in late January when they gave Penn State a pair of losses, the Wolverines have run into some trouble of their own. Red Berenson's troops are on a three-game losing streak, dropping one against the surging Minnesota Golden Gophers then a pair last week to Ohio State, including a 6-5 overtime heartbreaker.

Just like the Nittany Lions, Michigan will be coming off a loss that has hurt their standings. Though Michigan is still considered safe tied at eighth in the PairWise rankings, the USCHO knocked them down three spots from the sixth place in the overall rankings. Both clubs will have much to prove this weekend, with a lot on the line in between them.

You might have forgotten, but Michigan boasts three of the best players currently in the NCAA. Freshman forward Kyle Connor leads the NCAA in points with 57 in 32 games played. His 1.78 points per game also leads the nation, but what might be more shocking is his absurdly high shooting percentage, a .206. That's not even the highest on the team either. Junior Tyler Motte has him beat at .216 and rounds out the NCAA's top five scorers with 48 points. Junior JT Compher is tied for third in the nation with 49 points and his 37 assists lead the Wolverines this year.

Combined, those three had eight goals and nine assists between them when they last faced the Nittany Lions.

The way to beat Michigan is at their own game, by holding off their offense and using whatever firepower you can at their less-than-average goaltending. Senior Steve Racine is still getting the majority of the starts for the Wolverines, but with a .907 save percentage with a 3.06 goals against average, there are clearly cracks there. Junior Zach Nagelvoort has 10 starts with the same goals against as Racine but an .889 save percentage. The Nittany Lions last faced Racine twice when these two teams met in January, so there's no reason Berenson won't roll with their better netminder in such an important series.

It's easy to see why Michigan has the best offense in the NCAA with 4.72 average goals a game. Their offense is impossible to stop and led by the best offensive trio in the country. But Ohio State was able to get to them by suppressing their shots -- the Buckeyes outshot the Wolverines in each of the losses -- and were able to win by just the barest of margins. It certainly won't be easy for the Nittany Lions to sink the NCAA's best offense with so much on the line, but it's clear what their game plan should be.

Notes

  • Our very own Chris Taylor had a really good look at the Nittany Lions potential playoff scenarios just a few days back. It's good stuff, so read it.
  • Let's have some statistics fun. Penn State has closed the gap on Michigan in the power play, with Penn State's 24.22 percent success rate just two spots below the Wolverine's 27.56 for sixth and fourth respectively in the NCAA.
  • Penn State also still leads the NCAA in shorthanded goals by two. Very likely they'll come out of the regular season with that mantle, unless Boston College goes crazy in their Hockey East quarterfinals against Vermont.
  • This was really all filler cause I couldn't find much to talk about in this final week of the season besides playoff chances for Penn State. So, here's the latest edition of the Hockey Story for you to enjoy!