After a layoff of 20 days, the Penn State hockey team will continue its 2018-19 campaign. The Lions are heading to Minnesota and are ranked higher than the Gophers in the Pairwise Rankings.
It is too early to put undo emphasis on the rankings at this point, but now that the calendar has flipped to the second half of the season, we will start to keep our eye on the Pairwise rankings. As long as the Lions maintain a record the rest of the way that is roughly .500 or better in-conference, they will be in contention for an NCAA Tournament spot at the end of the season.
With the second half of the season containing only B1G conference competition, it will be much easier to see the games on television and via online streaming. Both games this weekend will be televised and there will be high-quality streams available as well. For fans just getting over the end of football season, and who are now turning their full attention to winter sports, it will be easier to follow the team.
More than half of the games remaining on the schedule will be televised.
The Gophers (6-7-4) have not gotten off to the start that they would have hoped. The perennial front-runner in the Big Ten conference is now showing signs of slipping. While five of the losses that the team has taken were at the hands of highly-ranked opponents, two were not. A loss to Ferris State (55) and St. Lawrence (57) may hamper any hopes of Minnesota making a run at the post-season if they do not turn things around during conference play.
The Gophers have scored 7 goals in a game four times this season, showing their offensive prowess. One of the 7-goal outbursts came against No. 5 Minnesota-Duluth in a 7-4 game during a home and away series. In the game at Duluth, the teams tied 1-1. The game results in that series are an indication of the advantage that the Gophers have when playing at home.
While playing on the large sheet of ice inside Mariucci Arena, the Gophers seldom lose. Penn State broke through with its first win at Mariucci a few years ago, and split there a season ago. In the game that the Lions lost, Minnesota scored 6 goals.
Rem Pitlick and Tyler Sheehy return as the leading scorers for the Gophers but the supporting cast has not held up around them thus far. Goalie Eric Schierhorn has platooned with Matt Robson after being the starter for most of his career. Both goalies have goal against averages under three goals per game.
The Lions will likely have to score as they have all season, at a 5.22 goal per game clip, leading the nation. Minnesota has been all or nothing in most of its games; if they score more than 3 goals they win but when they give up more than 3 they have lost. The Lions could score their way to victories, but also, if Pitlick and Sheehy are held in check, Penn State could hold the Gophers offense down and win low-scoring contests as well.
The series will be a good check for the team in terms of their maturity and focus at this point in the season. A split would be great. Many teams walk away from Mariucci having been swept, that would not be the end of the world for the Lions. A series win would go a long way, at one of the toughest venues in the Big Ten.