This past weekend of Big Ten hockey was nothing if not interesting. Here are three things that remain with me today.
1. Michigan can’t maintain a top position in the league if the Wolverines continue to cough up more than five goals per game.
I do hope you got to see Michigan’s 10-6 win over Ohio State Friday night, because the game was highly entertaining. For stretches of time, both teams could score at will: in a span of 1:13 late in the first period, the teams combined for three goals; they did it again between 1:42 and 3:05 in the second; in the third period, OSU’s Anthony Greco scored two goals six seconds apart, and the teams exchanged goals 20 seconds apart six minutes later. Highly entertaining. Highly unsustainable.
The Wolverines have allowed 14 goals in their last three games. Surprisingly, all three of these were Michigan wins. While Michigan has the top offense in the nation now, averaging 4.15 goals per game, the Wolverines have the 46th-best scoring defense in the country, allowing 3.10 goals per game. As good as the Michigan offense is — and it looks mighty, mighty fine right now — it’s unrealistic to expect this team to score so much in every game that it can continue to allow more than four goals each contest and win.
And my sympathies to the Buckeyes. Usually when you score six goals, you win your game.
2. Minnesota is still in the mix at the top, but the Golden Gophers need to play more consistent hockey.
It seems to be a theme this season in the Big Ten, teams with talent but without sufficient consistency. Minnesota appears to be the poster child for that theme, having played some very uneven hockey in the last two weeks. First there was a sweep at the hands of Michigan in Ann Arbor, followed by this weekend’s four points at home against Wisconsin — and in both series, the Gophers were prone to giving up key goals late in the game. Against Michigan two weekends ago, a late third-period goal led to a tie and eventual overtime loss. Against Wisconsin this past Friday night, the Gophers allowed two goals in the third that evened up the game and garnered them just a point for their efforts, as the Badgers took the shootout. In Saturday’s 5-2 win, Minnesota was leading 5-0 before the midway point of the game but the Badgers had the final two goals of the game — not enough for Wisconsin to overcome that deficit and not enough to sound a giant alarm, but still something to puzzle out if you’re the Minnesota coaching staff.
3. Michigan State gets points every weekend and Wisconsin is learning how to compete.
The Spartans proved their tenacity in their road series against Penn State, earning a win and extra shootout point before dropping Saturday’s game. Michigan State has yet to be swept in 2014-2015, and capturing those two points in Pegula Arena was no small task, given that the Nittany Lions are now 7-1-2 at home this season.
As for the Badgers, a week after watching a 3-1 lead against Boston University evaporate in the final two minutes of regulation, Wisconsin scored two goals in the final 10 minutes of Friday’s game against Minnesota to force overtime and then got the better of the Gophers in the shootout. That is progress. The Badgers are 1-3-2 in their last six games — all since the start of the calendar year — and with that tie and shootout point have earned their first Big Ten points of the season.