Following a series split in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in which No. 12 Ohio State (13-7-6, 4-5-1-1 Big Ten) dug itself into a hole against the Wolverines on both nights, the Buckeyes now find themselves on the outside looking in at an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament with 10 games to go.
In the pairwise rankings that determines who receives an at-large after the six automatic bids punch their tickets by winning their respective conference tournaments – OSU has slipped to 20th and they have their work cut out for them if they want to get back into the top 16, preferably higher.
In his latest college hockey bracketology, NCAA.com’s Chris Peters has the Buckeyes outside the top 16.
OSU was sitting in the No. 8 spot in the January bracketology.
Down, but far from out of the race, here’s 10 thoughts on the Scarlet and Gray as they head into the home stretch of their season:
The Gophers want revenge, and they’re sending a message
OSU’s opponent this weekend, No. 5 Minnesota, is on a three-game winning streak and are 10-2 since the Buckeyes beat them 8-3 at Mariucci Arena on Dec. 3. Their losses were no flukes either, a one goal loss to No. 1 Minnesota-Duluth and an overtime loss to No. 17 Wisconsin. They have the fourth-best offense in the nation averaging just shy of four goals per game, putting it on display at home last weekend in their sweep over No. 10 Penn State, racking up 10 goals in two games.
“They have a lethal offense year in and year out,” OSU assistant coach Mark Strobel said. “They’re very good on the power play, they can get shorthanded goals. They’re built that way.”
Not to be outdone, the Buckeyes have the second-best offense in the country, averaging just over four goals per game and they have the best power play in college hockey, clicking at an incredible 28.8 percent. OSU senior captain Nick Schilkey is tied for third in the NCAA with 11 power play goals this season.
Buckeyes go as Schilkey goes
Wow, did the Buckeyes ever enjoy having Schilkey back in the lineup last weekend after missing four games with a lower body injury. He provided six points on three goals and three assists in the two games against Michigan and is currently third in the nation in scoring with 20 lamp-lighters this season.
“He does everything for us,” Strobel said. “Not only is he a great hockey player, he’s a great leader, he’s a great human being. He does everything right. When you place a guy like Nick Schilkey in your locker room, you’re going to have success.”
Bumps and bruises and sickness…. Oh my
Having Schilkey, senior Drew Brevig and junior Matthew Weis out with injuries, along with the illnesses of sophomore Dakota Joshua and freshman Tanner Laczynski has had a huge impact in the Buckeyes’ struggles at times in the second half. All are back with the exception of Brevig, who is expected back by the end of the season. Freshman Ronnie Hein has been ruled out this weekend and redshirt junior Matt Joyaux is coming off of a lower body injury as well.
Congratulations, you played yourself
OSU can’t afford to dig themselves out of the holes they were in this past weekend against Michigan. They were down 5-1 on Friday night before losing 5-4, and were down 5-3 on Saturday before Schilkey’s game-winner with 30 seconds left to give OSU a 6-5 win.
“That’s been a big emphasis for us,” sophomore forward Mason Jobst said. “We’ve been coming out flat in the first period and teams have really taken advantage of us. We’ve got to change it. We can’t afford to keep digging big holes.”
Jobst on a mission
Jobst has been anything but flat this season. The star sophomore is leading the Buckeyes in points with 37 (12 goals, 25 assists), which puts him atop the Big Ten and tied for ninth in the country. His point streak extended to 12 with two goals and two assists in the 6-5 win over Michigan last Saturday.
That State Up North
Of the Buckeyes’ 10 remaining games, six are against Michigan and Michigan State, who have a combined record of 14-30-4 and six of those 10 games are at home, where OSU is 4-4-2 this season.
They’ve got above .500 problems, but below .500 ain’t one
OSU is 9-2-3 against teams .500 or worse this year, but they are 4-5-3 against teams .500 or better and they can’t afford to drop many games against either Minnesota or Wisconsin, who make up their remaining four games outside of Michigan and Michigan State.
Score first, get a win
Getting on the board first has been a huge factor for the Scarlet and Gray this year, as they are 13-2-2 when scoring first. In six of the last seven games, their opponents have hit the back of the net first and OSU is 2-3-2 in its last seven.
The Good, The Bad, and Arizona State?
As with most seasons, there has been extremely good hockey OSU has showcased with the win at now-No. 2 Denver, beating Minnesota in its own barn and a 2-1-1 record against Penn State. However, there has been the bad with the tie and loss to Miami and the split with Michigan, as well as the head scratching shown with their tie to second-year program Arizona State at home. The cliché is true with OSU in that they can beat anyone, yet still lose to anyone, and they will need a heck of a run in the next month and maybe some outside help if they don’t want to worry about winning the Big Ten tournament.