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Penn State Hockey: Nittany Lions Face Minnesota This Weekend As Bulk Of Conference Play Begins

by on January 06, 2016 2:00 PM

It's an interesting place Penn State men's hockey finds itself in. Entering Big Ten play a not-so-outside favorite to give the conference title a run in 2016. 

Although it's hardly a surprise at this point.

For one, the Nittany Lions boast the second-best offense in the country (4.39 goals per game) and the 20th-best defense (2.44). The mark is good enough for the nation's fifth-best scoring margin. When Penn State gives up a goal, it scores another, when the Nittany Lions fall behind it usually isn't for long. Especially at home where Penn State is 21-4-4 over the past two seasons. Not to mention simply being 12-3-3 this season alone overall.

And when opponents make mistakes, a 28.9 percent power play makes the most of those chances as well. In short, Penn State is pretty good at just about everything. If nothing else, above average, which isn't a bad place to start.

So this Friday the Nittany Lions enter the meat of conference play already at 2-0 thanks to a series sweep over Michigan State a few short weeks ago. And unlike previous seasons there is an expectation, maybe not to sweep the Gophers, but to get points out of both nights. The causal enjoyment of Penn State hockey being a thing has quickly transformed into a not so causal anticipation for bigger and better results as the years go along. 

Minnesota enters this weekend leading the Big Ten with 9 points, just three ahead of a Penn State team that has played two fewer games than the Gophers.

With five of the next seven games played in Hockey Valley, Penn State faces a great chance to start conference play off on the right skate. A solid series against Minnesota opens the door to face a pesky but very beatable Wisconsin squad before a trip to Ohio State and a split series in State College and Madison Square Garden against Michigan.

Walk away from that span with the majority of the points and things are looking up.

If nothing else, as Penn State plays eight of the last 10 on the road a strong January will go a long way towards making it through a bumpy February and March.

But it all starts this Friday at 6:30 at Pegula Ice Arena.

It might be one game at a time, but suddenly, they mean a whole lot more than they used to.

Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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