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Penn State men's hockey falters again, gets swept by Michigan

Foward Chase McLane (17) Penn State fighting for the puck from Michigan's Foward Johnny Beecher (17)

The two 17's fight for the puck during the Penn State men’s hockey game against Michigan at the Pegula Ice Arena on Thursday, Nov. 11, 2021 in University Park, Pa. The Nittany Lions lost to the Wolverines 5-1.

Penn State will have to wait at least another week for its first Big Ten win.

After starting the 2021-22 campaign 0-3 in conference play, the Nittany Lions tacked on another loss to a Big Ten foe with a 6-2 loss to Michigan Friday night at Pegula Ice Arena.

Michigan kicked off the scoring on an ill-advised mistake by Penn State goalie Liam Souliere. Instead of covering up a loose puck, Souliere tried to shovel it out of harm's way, which set up a golden opportunity for Brendan Brisson to capitalize and put the Wolverines up 1-0.

The maize and blue’s Keaton Pehrson was ejected for contact to the head, but Penn State could not take advantage of the five-minute power play.

Coming out of the first intermission, though, Connor McMenamin called his own number and beat Michigan goalie Erik Portillo to knot things up at one goal apiece.

With 17:16 to play in the second period, Michigan re-upped its lead to one when Luke Hughes went top shelf against Souliere for his fifth score of the season.

After a tripping penalty against Penn State’s Tyler Paquette, the Wolverines doubled their lead at 3-1 on a Matty Beniers power-play goal.

The maize and blue kept its high-octane offense running with a fourth score on a Thomas Bordeleau wrister with just over a minute remaining in the middle frame.

Owen Power, the first-overall pick in the 2021 NHL Draft, continued Michigan’s offensive onslaught with the Wolverines’ fifth goal of the night early in the third period. With under eight minutes to go, Ben Copeland scored on the power play to bring the deficit down to three.

But just 36 seconds later, Hughes added his second goal of the night to bring the score to its final of 6-2.

Quality, not quantity

Guy Gadowsky’s squad once again had no problem putting pucks on net against Michigan. A day removed from having 34 shots compared to the Wolverines’ 24, the Nittany Lions led BLANK-BLANK.

However, only two shots found twine for the blue and white. Meanwhile, the efficient Wolverines converted at a much higher clip, netting six goals, which is good for a 19% shooting percentage.

Penn State has registered more shots on goal than its opponent in each of its last four contests, all of which are Big Ten losses.

The Nittany Lions certainly ran into a stellar goaltender in Portillo, who entered Friday night boasting a 2.09 goals against average and .925 save percentage.

However, should the blue and white want to get the proverbial monkey off its back and beat a Big Ten team, it will need to find a way to turn its ample opportunities into goals.

Special teams struggles

The Nittany Lions were gifted a five-minute major on Pehrson’s game misconduct, but they came away from the prolonged one-man advantage empty-handed.

That was not the only power play Penn State let go to waste, as Copeland’s power-play goal was the Nittany Lions’ only one in six chances.

Penn State did a fantastic job of playing clean hockey, as evidenced by Paquette drawing the sole penalty, but his miscue proved to be a devastating one for the Nittany Lions’ special teams unit.

Paquette’s infraction opened the door for Michigan to double its lead at 3-1, an advantage it would not look back from.

While the blue and white did a better job of staying out of the sin bin relative to usual, it still did not do well enough when it had an extra attacker.

So-so Souliere

Thursday night, goalie Oskar Autio yielded five Michigan goals on just 24 shots. This showing, in addition to the quick turn around from an 8:30 p.m. start to a 7 p.m. puck drop, allowed for Liam Souliere to get his fourth start of the season.

Though the Brampton, Ontario, native entered with a 2-1 mark, his performance Friday night dropped his overall record to .500.

Souliere delivered moments of brilliance, like when he came off his line on a Michigan breakaway opportunity.

However, there were also youthful mistakes, such as when he failed to cover up the contest’s first goal. In total, he gave up six goals on 32 Michigan shots.

Unlike last season, when Souliere was buried on the bench after a dreadful start to his freshman campaign, he’ll likely continue to see ice time for the blue and white.

If Souliere cannot demonstrate he’s ready for marquee matchups, such as sparring against the likes of a No. 2 Michigan squad, the seasoned veteran in Autio may continue to get the nod more often than not.

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