Penn State (7-7) is playing great team hockey and 10 of the next 12 games will come at home, so the odds are in their favor moving forward. The No. 12 Wisconsin Badgers come to town and the Lions have a chance to avenge a sweep earlier in the year. Alex Limoges and Kevin Wall are each in the top ten in scoring for the Big Ten conference but the success has been spread around.
The Lions have plenty of scoring power and the defense has been getting better in recent weeks. One issue has been with the goal-tending, which is dead-last in conference play. Oskar Autio’s save percentage is .033 points behind the 7th-ranked goalie in the league. The gap between No. 7 and No. 1 is .031 points. Jack LaFontaine of Minnesota has a .946 save percentage compared to Autio’s .882.
Autio has played better in recent weeks but his performance may dictate the team’s future. It’s not easy to win when your goalie is getting out-played on a regular basis but there are also some very good goalies in the league. Penn State’s offense can pick up some of the slack but they will have to work with Autio to keep him from facing too many odd-man breaks.
Big Ten Standings
Every team in the Big Ten conference other than Ohio State received votes in this week’s USCHO.com poll. Penn State came in at No. 24 and only Michigan State (26) is in the rear-view mirror among the ranked Big Ten teams. The Lions will have to climb a few spots if they want to get into position for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Minnesota (4), Michigan (8), Wisconsin (12) and Notre Dame (16) are currently ranked within the field of 16. Not only will there be a great deal of movement in the coming weeks but the selection committee will be making their own decision. The polls are the best estimation that we have at this point. Typically the committee uses the PairWise Rankings to select the field and the process is clear cut and we know where all teams stand at all times. This year there will be some guesswork in terms of projecting the field.
It appears that there will be at least three Big Ten teams that make the NCAA Tournament and a fourth could squeak in as well. The Lions have 8 more games against the teams directly ahead of them in the conference standings, four against Notre Dame and two each against Michigan and Wisconsin. The head-to-head match-ups against teams that it trails in the rankings could prove to be the chance that the team needs to get into a post-season position.
Wisconsin swept the Lions in the second series of the year after Guy Gadowsky’s squad got swept by Minnesota in the opening series. A loss against Michigan in the fifth game gave Penn State an 0-5 record and there was cause for concern. While the team was still learning to play together, in retrospect, it also played 5 games against three of the top 12 teams in the country, four coming on the road.
The Lions are 7-2 since the tough start and now they have Wisconsin at home. A split would keep the team within striking range but a sweep may have the Lions leapfrog the Badgers in the polls. Wisconsin has a talented team but they are not playing at the level that they were when Penn State faced them earlier in the season. With the series being played in State College, the Lions should be favored to win the series or at least get a split.