Penn State had seen worse throughout its first season of Division I hockey, but it still was not pretty.
On Friday and Saturday, the Nittany Lions faced a barrage of shots from Robert Morris in their final regular season series. The trend is something that most likely needs to be reversed to keep the Lions in the College Hockey America Tournament, which kicks off on Friday in a best-of-three series against RIT.
The Colonials took a total of 120 shots all weekend — an average of one shot per minute of play — while the Lions managed to fire only 26 shots. The striking difference in offensive output during the series helps explain the games’ outcomes, which were 4-1 and 4-2 victories for the Colonials.
While Jess Desorcie said she did not see the weekend’s shot disparity a big problem, she noted that the team is trying to get more shots on goal every game.
“It definitely doesn’t help us get goals if we don’t get the shots,” the sophomore forward said.
Throughout the season, shot differentials in previous series have usually not been as glaring as it was against the Colonials. But regardless of the final totals, the Lions have almost always taken fewer shots than their opponents.
Assistant coach Gina Kearns said “...that’s kind of the theme for us,” when talking about the shot situation following Saturday’s loss.
However, there is a time when the trend does not prevail — when the team wins games.
The Lions out-shot their opponents in six of their seven wins. The anomaly occurred in the team’s inaugural game, a 5-3 win at Vermont on Oct. 6, in which the Catamounts held the shooting advantage, 34-24.
By the same token, the Lions were out-shot in all of their losses and ties, save for one game. On Oct. 19, they lost to Sacred Heart, 2-1, despite out-shooting the Pioneers 42-28.
So what is so different in the games in which the Lions dominate the shooting, almost always skating off victorious?
Head coach Josh Brandwene said the team’s efficiency in those games starts with its defense, which has been a main focus all season.
“The better we play defensively, the better job we do of clearing the puck and getting pucks deep, the more offense we generate,” Brandwene said. “That’s been our formula all year, and when we do it well, those are the times we get into a real good rhythm offensively.”
Several things need to fall into place in order for the victories on the shot chart and scoreboard to spring up again this weekend, something that has not happened since the Lions swept Division III Chatham on Jan. 4 and 5.
Junior Jenna Welch said second opportunities have to be eliminated. She noted that the Colonials took a lot of shots outside, but then crashed the net hard for extra chances on goal.
“It’s all right if they get some outside shots, as long as we pick up in front of the net and make sure we don’t leave anyone open for their second opportunities,” the Austin, Texas, native said.
Brandwene said the Lions can still be a bit stronger on clearing the puck, which would relieve some of the pressure by getting more time on the attack.
When the opposite happens, opponents have more time at the Lions’ end of the ice, resulting in more shots.
“We don’t get out of our [defensive] zone as much as we’d like to, so obviously that gives up more chances for them,” Desorcie said.
Penalties have kept the Lions pinned in their own end of the ice, too. While the team’s 139 penalties throughout the season are only four more than opponents have committed, it has gone down one player at some rather inopportune times recently.
For instance, all four of the Lions’ penalties on Saturday were called in a second period that they gave up two goals and fell behind 3-1. The day before, the Lions led 1-0 after one period. But they were whistled for four two-minute minors in the second frame and one more in the third, ultimately conceding two powerplay goals.
Regardless of the score, going down one player makes it much more difficult to stay on the attack or prevent scoring.
“Obviously it’s a big advantage [for opponents], so we want to try to stay out of the box,” Welch said. “Getting powerplays, you get momentum off of them too, so as long as we stay disciplined and stay out of the box, I think it will be really good for us.”
Desorcie said the Lions always have a chance, regardless of the shot total. But reversing the trend has proven to usually make them winners, and Welch said there is nothing too complicated in staying on the offensive, rather than being battered by shots from opponents all game.
“Not really anything secret, no fancy plays,” Welch said. “Just making good, hard passes, smart plays, getting it in deep and going from there.”