The Big Ten Conference witnessed great success in 2017-18, capped off with Notre Dame, Michigan, Ohio State, and Penn State earning bids into the 2018 NCAA tournament. And as we approach the midpoint of this campaign, we’re due for a check-in with one of the country’s most formidable conferences.
A new season has brought some change in the conference with notable graduate losses, breakout players, and a Penn State team with concerning conference play.
Standings don’t always paint the clearest picture, which is why in our check-in this week, we’re catching you up on the some of the biggest storylines in the Big Ten.
Goals Galore For No. 9 Penn State
The Nittany Lions lead the nation with 77 goals for through 15 games, averaging a whopping 5.13 goals per game. While that potent offense has carried the Lions to a 10-4-1 overall record, they’ve also surrendered an average of 3.8 goals per game, making for 57 total goals against.
No team can outscore their problems forever, which the Nittany Lions have discovered given their 2-3-1 record in their last six outings, all coming in crucial conference matchups.
Sitting in the bottom of the conference is dangerous territory for a team with high expectations. They’ll need more than leading scorers Evan Barratt and Alex Limoges to turn it around as conference play carries on.
Goaltending Sinking No. 15 Michigan
Last season, the Wolverines surged back to the headlines under new head coach Mel Pearson. They played a confident game en route to a Frozen Four appearance.
Junior Hayden Lavigne has gone 2-4-2 through eight games with his worst numbers in three years with the Wolverines. Should he get his 3.2 goals against average and .877 save percentage closer to the 2.81 GAA and .908 SV% he finished last season with, the Wolverines would start to build on their 6-6-3 record.
Freshman Strauss Mann hasn’t fared much better with a 3.28 GAA or .881 SV%, but he does offer a winning record at 4-2-1.
No. 5 Notre Dame Cale Morris Fighting Irish
Notre Dame continues to be the Cale Morris show. The goaltender went 27-8-1 last year with a 1.94 GAA and .944 SV% as the Mike Richter Award winner. He carried the Fighting Irish to an easy inaugural season in the Big Ten. Their path to the NCAA finals seemed even easier before ultimately succumbing to champion Minnesota Duluth.
Morris holds a 7-4-1 record with a 1.83 GAA and .939 SV% through 12 starts in 2018-19. As if Morris wasn’t enough, backup Dylan St. Cyr has gone 3-0 with a 1.00 GAA and .965 SV%.
Despite a consistent rotation between goaltenders Cale Morris and Dylan St. Cyr this season that may appear as instability, @C_Mulvena says that head coach Jeff Jackson's strategy will only pay dividends for @NDHockey.https://t.co/BJlWTz6ini— Observer Sports (@ObserverSports) December 4, 2018
Winners of six in a row, the Irish are putting a blip of a three-game skid from Oct. 26- Nov. 2 behind them now and closing what little gaps they’ve displayed this season.
No. 7 Ohio State Stays On Top
“Flash” hasn’t been necessary for the Buckeyes this season, not when you can run a tandem comparable to Morris and St. Cyr.
The Buckeyes sit atop the Big Ten standings, and while many may be quick to point out goaltender Sean Romeo and his three shutouts, it’s been Tommy Nappier who has carried the load.
Nappier holds a 5-1-2 record with a 1.43 GAA and stunning .951 SV% to go along with two shutouts of his own. The pair — along with a stingy defense — has thwarted opponents, holding them to an average of just 2.00 goals per game.
Spartans’ Top Line Thriving
Last season, Michigan State saw its top line of sophomores Taro Hirose and Patrick Khodorenko team up with freshman Mitchell Lewandowski for one of the best lines in the Big Ten.
A year later, they remain potent. Hirose, Lewandowski, and Khodorenko sit third, 10th, and 17th in Big Ten scoring, respectively. They’ve combined for 21 goals and 30 assists for 51 points through 14 games. Hirose (7 G, 16 A, 23 pts.) is fourth in Division I scoring.
Goal No. 7 and point No. 23 on the season for Taro Hirose and we're tied. pic.twitter.com/vN7zROXjwO— MSU_Hockey (@MSU_Hockey) December 2, 2018
After a six-game slide, the Spartans have gone 2-0-1 in their last three and will look to stay hot against Wisconsin in their final series before the winter break and Great Lakes Invitational on Dec. 30-31.
Don’t miss out on Big Ten action when you can keep up with the storylines by streaming games live, right here on FloHockey.
Have a question or a comment for Jacob Messing? You can find him on Twitter @Jacob_Messing.