Michigan State's hockey team has already accumulated more wins in just 14 games this season than the entirety of last year.
After winning just seven games last season, the Spartans (8-5-1) are in the midst of a four-game winning streak – the longest of coach Danton Cole's tenure – and are coming off a home series sweep over Wisconsin.
Now, MSU hits the road to take on Penn State for games on Friday and Saturday.
MSU sits at 3-3 in the Big Ten with nine points, while PSU is just 1-5 with three points in conference play, being swept by Michigan and Ohio State prior to a series split with Minnesota.
Here are three things to watch for as MSU prepares for PSU this weekend.
Containing Penn State's offense
PSU's offense has had a staple during coach Guy Gadowsky's time with the program – put pucks on net.
PSU leads the country averaging just over 36 shots on goal per game. The Nittany Lions have found themselves near the top of that statistic nationally since becoming a Divison 1 program in the 2012-13 season.
"They transition real quick and I think everyone would come to the common denominator that they put a lot of pucks on net," Cole said. "They pressure and they get up and down and when they get to the red line they are thinking to put the puck on net. They are a real handful, especially in their building."
PSU's top line — consisting of leading score Kevin Wall, Colorado College grad transfer Ben Copeland and freshman Ryan Kirwan — has been red hot. Kirwan and Wall are riding five-game point streaks, with Copeland having a career best six-game point streak.
MSU ranks fourth in the Big Ten and 17th nationally, allowing just 2.5 goals per game. The Spartans' back line has strung together a few impressive performances as of late, but PSU's firepower will be its biggest test since MSU played Michigan nearly a month ago.
Can DeRidder stay hot?
Senior goaltender Drew DeRidder has started the past five games for the Spartans and has been instrumental during the four-game winning streak.
DeRidder has posted a 6-3-1 record in 10 starts overall, compiling a .943 save percentage (1st in the Big Ten, fourth in the nation) and a 2.08 goals-against average (3rd Big Ten,14th nationally). DeRidder stopped 48 shots in his last appearance against Wisconsin and has allowed just 10 goals in his past five games.
"I just try to stay calm and take it one shot at a time and focus on the next shot," DeRidder said. "I think every year I've improved and I'd say this is as good as I've played and I built on last year's performance coming into this year."
Coming off a series against Wisconsin who also puts a lot of pucks on net, should help DeRidder as he prepares to face the Nittany Lions. ,
"He's handled rebounds and there haven't been a lot of second chances,'' Cole said. "His presence of mind has been really good. You can give up goals, and any time they're bad, but there are certain times in a game when you need that big save to hold that momentum.
"Other teams are going to get chances and when a goalie can make the big save at the right time and calm things down, it's so important. Drew's been exceptional at those times."
Adjusting to the road
Prior to its home series with the Badgers, MSU had played six of its previous eight games on the road, posting a 2-3-1 record with wins coming at Ohio State and Ferris State. MSU tied Lowell, but its three losses have been lopsided – 4-0 to Lowell, 5-1 against OSU and a 7-2 defeat at Michigan.
PSU's Pegula Ice Arena is known to have one of the most rambunctious student sections in the nation and should be a good test for the Spartans, who got to experience a crowd like that just once so far this season at Yost Ice Arena in Ann Arbor.
"It's a loud barn, but it's a fun place to play at. They really pack them in there," MSU defenseman and captain Dennis Cesana said. "They have a great student section, and Big Ten hockey is known for that and they are definitely up there with one of the best student sections in college hockey. It's like any other game, they are going to bring the noise and we just have to fight through it and focus on ourselves."
The Spartans and Nittany Lions will play at 7 p.m. on Friday and at 5 p.m. on Saturday.
PSU leads the all time series 18-12-4 and is 10-3-3 against MSU at home.
Contact Nathaniel Bott at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @Nathaniel_Bott
This article originally appeared on Lansing State Journal: Michigan State hockey: Three things to watch as Spartans travel to Penn State