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Penn State, Ohio State Battle At The Top Of The Big Ten

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Level at the top of the table, the Nittany Lions and Buckeyes will look to pull away from the other this weekend.

Heather Weikel | Black Shoe Diaries

With season’s end drawing nearer and the Big Ten title race frankly a mess, teams will take whatever advantage they can get to pull away from the pack.

For Ohio State — the team with the best home record in the conference — having four of its last six games at Value City Arena is a blessing.

Penn State — having four of its last six on the road — may also feel blessed to be having its best road campaign in program history. The Nittany Lions seven road wins this season doesn’t seem like much, but it’s already a program record for road wins in a season.

Both teams would like to see their trends continue, not just for the conference and national implications, but also to break out of their respective slumps. The Buckeyes have two wins in their past seven games, while the Nittany Lions have just one in their past six.

“It takes more than just practicing on the ice, I can tell you that,” coach Guy Gadowsky said of getting out of the slump. “That’s a part of it. The teams that are able to figure that out would have a definite advantage over the ones that don’t. But it’s an art. I don’t think there’s an exact science.”

The two slumps have stemmed from difficulties in different areas of the ice. The Buckeyes have surrendered nearly twice as many goals during their run, while the Nittany Lions can’t seem to buy a goal some nights.

Fortunately for the Nittany Lions, their troubles seem easier to correct than the Buckeyes.

“It’s tough when you’re not producing consistently for a couple games, you try to force things,” forward Alex Limoges said. “It’s tough when you force things. They’re not going to go your way and you end up hurting yourself.”

It’s easy to point the finger at Limoges’ trio with Evan Barratt and Liam Folkes as the one that needs to produce more. They’ve combined for just four goals in this six-game slump, far below their own personal standard and the standard set when Limoges tied for the NCAA scoring lead last season.

The production isn’t a major concern yet for Gadowsky. He knows the goals will come for that trio and others who should be producing more as long as they continue to get chances. It’s when those chances disappear that he’ll sound the alarm.

“I guess I believe what I’ve been told my whole life that, in hockey, you only worry if you’re not getting chances,” he said. “I think there’s a number of guys that are getting chances and it’s just not quite rolling right now. I’m optimistic that will even out.”

Scouting The Buckeyes

Much like the Nittany Lions, the Buckeyes recent slump has left them in a precarious position — 11th in the PairWise — with not much time remaining to make up ground.

In their seven-game slump, the Buckeyes scoring has taken only a minor dip from their 2.71 average. Keeping the puck out of their own net has been the real issue. Once a top-five team in goals allowed, the Buckeyes have yielded nearly three and a half goals per game in their slump.

Despite the uptick in goals against, goalie Tommy Nappier has continued to post solid numbers. The junior netminder has posted a 13-8-2 record and ranks third in the Big Ten in both goals-against average and save percentage.

Noted Nittany Lion killers Tanner Laczynski and Gustav Westlund pace the Buckeyes with 16 assists and 12 goals, respectively. The duo has been a thorn in Penn State’s side, as Laczynski has 17 points in 11 career games against Penn State, while Westlund has five goals in just seven career games against the Nittany Lions.