Let’s get to the important part right away: if you enjoy the thrill of high-scoring hockey games, you ought to consider attending the Ohio State-Michigan men’s hockey series this weekend in Columbus. Friday at 7:00 pm, and Saturday at 5:00 pm, the Buckeyes play host to the Wolverines, a series that holds big implications for the home team.
Ohio State is looking for its first national postseason bid since the 2008-09 season, and are currently on the good side of the NCAA tournament bubble. In general, the top 16 teams in the PairWise Rankings make the tournament, and OSU sits 13th as of this writing (via USCHO). However, it’s a tenuous grasp, as conference playoff champions get NCAA auto-bids. The slightest slip from OSU, or a few minor upsets in the other conferences could put an end to the Buckeyes’ push. Factor in the multi-sport rivalry between OSU and Michigan, and a down year for the Hockey Wolverines? It’s an enticing reason to be at the Schottenstein Center.
If the national implications weren’t enough, OSU’s play style represents a massive entertainment value for hockey fans in Columbus. I recommend attendance for two reasons that have everything to do with goals: the strength of the Buckeyes’ offense, and the limitations of the Ohio State defense.
Buckeyes Scoring at Will
One of the key reasons to attend Ohio State games? Ohio State has one of the most dynamic offenses in the NCAA, and a reasonably porous defense. This means high scoring games that swing wildly from large deficits, to tight matches, to big leads from period-to-period.
Using data from College Hockey Inc, we can explore just how much offense to expect in any given Ohio State game. Let’s look at OSU’s performance throughout the season, and then in Big Ten Conference play.
Data from College Hockey Inc
Ohio State’s scoring has dropped a bit since the start of the Big Ten slate, but still manages nearly 4 goals of offense per game.
However, it’s the total scoring from both teams that makes the entire experience such a rush. On average, you can expect to see 7+ goals scored in any given Ohio State Men’s Hockey game. Over the whole season, that’s about a goal and a half more than you can expect in a CBJ game (around 5.69 as of this writing).
On the Ohio State side of the ledger, a combination of exceptional forward talent and a wild powerplay results in strong scoring. Ohio State has six players currently scoring at a point per game pace for the year (via College Hockey Inc). This ties the Buckeyes for most point per game players on any team in men’s hockey (Harvard also has 6, several schools have 3).
Part of the reason for all that scoring is a powerplay, firing at 29.6% which is the best in the country (via College Hockey Inc). Ohio State is 4th in the NCAA with 37 powerplay goals on the year, accounting for 30% of the Buckeyes’ total offensive production.
This weekend sets up to be more of the same for Ohio State, as Michigan comes in allowing 3.36 goals per game, and with a not-great PK% of 81.2%. It’s a down year for the Wolverines, and this is a chance for the Buckeye offense to display its powers.
Buckeyes Playing with Fire
Meanwhile, in their defensive zone, the Buckeyes aren’t so formidable. OSU allows more than 3 goals per game on average, and is 44th of 60 teams in shots allowed per game. Part of the problem manifests on the penalty kill. Ohio State owns the second-worst PK in the nation, only preventing powerplay goals 73.6% of the time. It’s an issue that reared its head against Minnesota, as OSU surrendered 6 powerplay goals at home on February 11 (box score at USCHO).
The problem extends to even-strength, too. At College Hockey News, Ohio State ranks 14th worst in men’s hockey at even-strength CF% (via CHN Stats). Atop the shot suppression issues, OSU’s goalies haven’t been productive. Both regular starters (Christian Frey and Matt Tomkins) sport sub-par SV% (.911 and .899, respectively).
It’s no wonder, then, that Ohio State requires all the firepower on offense. Even though Michigan only averages 2.68 goals per game this season, it’s easy to imagine an increase in production for the visitors.
Players to Watch
If you plan to attend either game this weekend, here are some names to look for both sides.
#7 Nick Schilkey, Forward, Ohio State – The Buckeye captain has been a dynamic scoring option his entire career. Now a senior, Schilkey is getting attention as a potential UFA pickup for NHL teams (listed in item 24 of Friedman’s 30 Thoughts on Feb 14). This is the second straight year Schilkey has averaged more than a point per game, and the first season he’s passed the 20 goal mark. His 23 goals are currently third best in men’s hockey.
#9 Tanner Laczynski, Forward, Ohio State – The freshman phenom is a Philadelphia draft pick (6th round, 2016), and you may remember him from this past December and January. Laczynski was a member of the gold medal winning United States team at the World Junior Championship, finishing with 2 points in 7 games (via EliteProspects). The forward’s numbers have been more impressive in college, now with 9 goals and 30 points in 25 games. The youngest player on the Buckeye roster can pull off some dazzling moves, and is capable of taking over a shift.
#47 Josh Healey, Defense, Ohio State – The senior on the blueline is also Ohio State’s top point producer among d-men (20 points in 27 games). Healey has a number of suspensions to his name, including a two-gamer earned two weekends ago with a hit versus Minnesota (the suspension severed during the series at Michigan State last weekend, via The Lantern). While the suspensions aren’t great, Healey’s physical play is part of why the d-man looks to be a potential NHL pickup at the end of the season. Last week, Bob McKenzie shared that Healey is attracting interest from Calgary and Nashville, among others (via TSN).
#10 Will Lockwood, Forward, Michigan – Michigan’s in a down year, which shouldn’t be a surprise (they lost several NHL-caliber players, including CBJ rookie Zach Werenski). One of the newest players to step in is freshman Will Lockwood, a Vancouver draft pick (3rd round, 2016). Lockwood isn’t posting massive numbers yet (15 points in 25 games), but is second on his team in scoring and represents potential future play for the Wolverines (he’s only 18, the second-youngest player in this weekend’s series).
#1 Jack LaFontaine, Goalie, Michigan – Three different goalies have played 10 or more games for Michigan this year, meaning it’s hard to predict exactly who we’ll see in net. However, the most promising of the three to-date is LaFontaine, a Carolina draft pick (3rd round, 2016). The goalie’s .911 SV% isn’t exceptional relative to other NCAA players, but is currently the best of the Wolverines (via USCHO).