With only four losses through 15 games, it’s hard to critique the offense of this Penn State team.
It currently sits atop the Big Ten three points in front of Notre Dame, and has scored more goals than any other team with 69 on the season.
The only team averaging more goals per game is Harvard, but the Crimson’s sample size is significantly smaller with just seven games played.
The Nittany Lions have cemented themselves as an offensive powerhouse, tormenting opposing goalies and defenses with cycles and speed to get up big on the scoreboard.
To beat them, the opposition must be able to contain their offensive production while putting up enough goals on their own to take a lead and keep it.
This year, none of the four teams that have defeated Penn State have significantly outplayed the Nittany Lions. Saturday night against UMass Lowell was no exception.
After a dominating 7-0 victory over Merrimack on Friday night, the Nittany Lions travelled 30 minutes west to take on the No. 15 River Hawks.
While Penn State dropped the game in overtime after Nate Sucese tied the game with 23 seconds to play, it could have easily won if not for the hot goaltending of Tyler Wall who stopped 34 of the Nittany Lions’ 36 shots.
Sometimes the team has games in which it is unable to solve the opposing goalie, but at what point does that become a true issue?
In all four losses this season, Penn State has outshot the opposition but was unable to come away with the win.
In the games against UMass Lowell and Michigan State on Nov. 8, Penn State doubled up its opponents in shots 38-16 and 48-24 respectively.
It was shutout in the Michigan State game as well as in a game against Alaska Fairbanks on Oct. 18, which is a rare occurrence for such an offensively-minded team.
While Penn State is in great shape for a deep tournament run, these loses are significant when looking at the road ahead. Losses to beatable schools like Alaska Fairbanks and UMass Lowell seem like missed opportunities to make Penn State’s PairWise ranking even stronger when it’s time to seed the teams for the tournament in the spring.
Losses to conference foes are huge as well, and the game against Michigan State is especially significant since the Nittany Lions outplayed the Spartans in every aspect except goaltending. Penn State peppered goalie John Lethemon with 48 shots and not one got by the keeper.
Guy Gadowsky hasn’t come away from any of the losses too upset — he has been proud of the ways his team has performed in these games if anything — as he knows what his team is capable of. Sometimes the other goalie just stands on his head and there isn’t much the team can do about it.
Should this theme of unbeatable goalies in winnable games continue, however, it may raise a few concerns about the mindset of the team in these gritty games. When the puck luck just isn’t going the team’s way, it can be demoralizing and put Penn State out of games it should be dominating.
As for what can be done about it, that is up to the coaching staff and the mental toughness of the players. No goalie can save everything if he’s being berated all night, so the more shots on net the better.
Spacing and positioning is also a key part of the game that must be tuned during mentally frustrating games. Getting more passing lanes, shots from the slot and bodies screening the goalie will all increase the chances of the puck finding twine.
No. 7 Penn State is doing just fine as we are approaching the midway point of the season, but it must find a way to win these close games to give themselves as big of an advantage as possible at the end of the year.