Preview: Michigan State hockey returns to action in two-game series with Penn State

Michigan state hockey is back on the ice this weekend after a week off during the Thanksgiving break. The Spartans are heading east to face the Penn State Nittany Lions.

“We have a little break here, a little bit of healing and we’re giving the opportunity to take a few days at each end,” said MSU head coach Danton Cole.

The Spartans entered the break on a four-game winning streak, sweeping Ferris State and Wisconsin in back-to-back weekends.

Senior goaltender Drew DeRidder is a big part of that winning streak. The senior goaltender’s .943 save percentage is second in the nation and fifth in the Big Ten; In the last four games, opposing teams have managed to score an average of 1.75 goals per game against DeRidder.

DeRidder is going to have his work cut out for him this weekend. The Nittany Lions average 36.62 shots on goal per game, which is the first in the Big Ten and one of the highest in the country. Michigan State’s 26.93-shot average is the Big Ten’s last.

“They put a lot of pucks in the net,” said Cole. “They put pressure on you, they go from defense to attack extremely quickly. When they get to the line, they think about putting the puck on the net.

DeRidder’s excellence between the pipes is nothing new – what is new is the improved offensive power of the Spartans. In the winning streak, MSU has averaged 3.5 goals per game, one above the season’s 2.5 average. The offense will have to stay strong to compete with a team like Penn State. The return of fifth-year forward Mitchell Lewandowski to the roster gave a major boost to the attacking hall. The senior leads the team in points (five goals and eight assists) and brings balance to the lineup.

The Nittany Lions have an impressive collection of talented forwards. Junior forward Kevin Wall leads the team on offense, averaging more than a point per game with 10 goals and six assists in 15 games. Senior forward Ben Copeland is on his heels, with 14 points (four goals and 10 assists) in 13 games.

PSU defenders can also activate effectively from the blue line. Second-year defenseman Jimmy Dowd Jr. is a puck-moving defenseman who can create scoring opportunities with efficient passes and a puck cycle – his eight assists are good for second in the roster. Senior defenseman Clayton Phillips leads the blue line in goals scored, scoring four to 13 games.

While Penn State has an offensive advantage over Michigan State, MSU’s defense and special teams are statistically better than PSU’s. The Spartans’ penalty shootout (0.811 hit rate) and power play (0.250 hit rate) are both third in the Big Ten. The Nittany Lions’ power play is just behind MSU (.241), but the penalty is the Big Ten’s second worst (.774). Defensively, Michigan State is allowing 2.43 goals per game on average, while Penn State is allowing 2.85.

After a scorching 6-1 start to the season, Penn State limped through the conference game with a 1-5 record, swept away by both Ohio State and Michigan. However, PSU are still an extremely dangerous team – they only suffered one non-conference loss and had victories over No.7 North Dakota and No.11 Minnesota.

It’s a must-see series for Penn State if they are to turn the season around – they’re currently dead last in the Big Ten standings. Michigan State will face a very talented team stuck in one of the Big Ten’s toughest road environments. If they can pull off a win (or two), the team could be a legitimate threat in conference this season.

The Puck Drop series is scheduled to open for 7 p.m. Friday night. Both games in the series will be streamed online via BTN +.

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