A disappointing season rolls on for the Wisconsin Badgers men’s hockey team as they welcome the Penn State Nittany Lions to Madison this weekend. The Badgers come into this matchup struggling in a big way — they are on a seven game losing streak, not including their exhibition loss to the U.S. under-18 team last week.
Penn State enters with a 10-7 record, but an underwhelming 2-6 record in conference play. They split their series with Michigan State last weekend — winning the first, but losing the second.
Know Your Foe
Unlike Wisconsin, Penn State has not had much trouble putting the puck in the back of the net. They rank top 10 nationally with 59 goals in their 17 games.
PSU has been paced in scoring by Kevin Wall and Connor MacEachern. The two juniors both have scored 10 goals so far this year. The two don’t play on the same line either, which has proven to be a huge boost for a team without much top-tier talent.
Outside of Carolina Hurricanes draft pick Wall, Penn State has two other former draft picks. Chase McLane is a center-man and a former seventh round pick of the Nashville Predators. He had his best weekend of the year last week against Michigan State with eight shots, one goal and one assist against the Spartans.
Clayton Phillips plays on the top defensive pairing for the Nittany Lions. He is a transfer from Minnesota and a former third round pick of Pittsburgh. While his offensive numbers are not overly impressive, he is a lockdown defender and an anchor in the back end of the Penn State defense.
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The Penn State defense has struggled this year and has been the biggest reason for their lowly conference record. They have allowed about three goals per game so far, but most of their defensive struggles have come as of late. But Penn State has gotten some significant offensive contributions from their blue-liners, emphasizing even more the offensive focus.
In net for the Nittany Lions is senior Oskar Autio. Autio is a senior from Finland with 12 starts so far this season. Autio has played solidly this year, posting a save percentage of .903 and a goals against average of 2.61. Considering he has started games against North Dakota, Michigan and Minnesota, these numbers are even more impressive.
Penn State is an offensive-minded team in every sense. They get scoring from up and down the lineup and have two scorers as potent as any in America. They get significant contributions from their defense and rely on their goalie to keep them in games.
The Nittany Lions take advantage of their relative lack of skill by playing at a fast pace and out-working their typically more talented opponents.
What to Watch For
Last week, Ceulemans did not receive an invite to the Team Canada training camp for World Juniors. He has been open about his disappointment in the week since and I would expect an extra motivated defenseman this weekend.
Ceulemans has been impressive in his first year in Madison. Despite an injury and some early struggles on the defensive end, he seems to be getting comfortable and rounding into the form Badger fans thought they would get from the former first rounder.
I would love to see a big weekend out of him to make Canada regret not giving him a camp invite.
Wisconsin’s power play and penalty kill have both been actively bad so far this season. On the man advantage, Wisconsin has converted just six times in 52 tries, for a measly conversion percentage of .115. On the other side, opponents have cashed in 16 of their 43 opportunities against Wisconsin for a conversion percentage of .372.
Against a potent offense like Penn State’s, staying out of the box will have a larger emphasis than usual.
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Head Coaching Battle
Wisconsin head coach Tony Granato was inducted into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame on Thursday. While his season with the Badgers has been underwhelming, it is hard to overstate his importance to hockey in the state of Wisconsin. This series against Penn State will conclude a monumental weekend for him and his family.
On the other side, Penn State head coach Guy Gadowski is in his 10th season in Happy Valley. He is in the middle of a long rebuild to try and revive a program without much history. Gadowski is an accomplished head coach who has spent more than 20 years as a bench boss.
This is a good chance for Wisconsin to hopefully rebound a save what seems to be a lost season. This series has split written all over it and I believe that will hold true to form.
The two sides are pretty evenly matched and it seems like we should be in for a good weekend of hockey at the Kohl Center.