With a little perspective, the Penn State men’s hockey team could live with a series split last weekend when it faced Ohio State.
Looking at the bigger picture, facing a ranked team and the preseason favorite in the Big Ten, one win out of two games was acceptable.
But there was one aspect that was definitely not acceptable to head coach Guy Gadowsky, and it was a point of emphasis before the season even began.
The Nittany Lions took way too many penalties, especially in the game they won against the Buckeyes last Saturday.
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No. 4 Penn State (14-2-1, 3-1 Big Ten) hopes to have the issues straightened out when they return to the ice to meet Michigan State (4-13-1, 0-4) at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday at Pegula Ice Arena.
“We took some … bad penalties on Saturday night that almost cost us the game,” captain David Goodwin said. “For the players in the locker room we talk about we’ve got to be more disciplined, for sure.”
Last season, Penn State was in the middle of the pack, drawing 174 penalties for 395 minutes, and killed 80.4 percent of the resulting power plays, ranking 40th out of 60 Division I teams.
This season, the penalty-killing has improved incredibly, leading the nation by stopping 90.5 percent — allowing just seven goals. They also are tied for 10th in drawing just 89 penalties for 200 minutes.
“That’s a really big priority for us compared to what we did last year and I thought we did a really good job at the start of the year,” Gadowsky said. “(Last) weekend was very poor, very poor.”
How poor were they? Against the Buckeyes on Saturday, they were whistled seven times. One was an interference call on James Robinson early that was close to a blow to the head and could have been more serious, and a few other in fractions were not the smartest, either.
The Nittany Lions ended up having to kill three 5-on-3 situations — and just one in a game can be daunting.
Gadowsky called that “a big-time concern” and didn’t know why there was a regression in their discipline.
That also led to his team nearly losing its lead. They were up 2-0, managed to get a shorthanded goal while killing a penalty, then on the third 5-on-3 situation gave up a pair of goals.
“We were very comfortable, but we didn’t have a good game on Saturday,” Gadowsky said. “… We were feeling good about ourselves and thought we had learned a lot with situational hockey, but (last) weekend … we didn’t play very well with a lead at all.”
Gadowsky’s team at least is comforted knowing they have the nation’s highest-scoring offense and a good goaltender to save the day when they give up those tough situations.
“(Against) Ohio State, we didn’t play Penn State hockey to the best of our ability,” said goalie Peyton Jones. “We started off the first game not playing the way we really can and got better on Saturday. We’re going to work hard this week to go into the weekend feeling good.”
Notes: Before giving up the two power-play goals in the third period against the Buckeyes, Penn State had killed 21 straight power plays. ... Jones has a record of 12-1-1 this season. He is one win away from tying Eamon McAdam’s win total from 2015-16, the single-season program record. Jones is tied for fifth in the nation for wins. ... Denis Smirnov now has 18 assists and 28 points, both single-season team records for a freshman. Those marks also lead the nation for freshmen, and he ranks 11th among all Division I players in assists and 12th for points.
Who: Michigan State (4-13-1, 0-4) at No. 4 Penn State (14-2-1, 3-1)
Where: Pegula Ice Arena
When: 7 p.m. Friday, Saturday
TV: BTN (Saturday)
Radio: WAPY 103.1
Leading scorers: PSU — Denis Smirnov (10 goals, 18 assists), Andrew Sturtz (13 G, 2 A), Trevor Hamilton (3 G, 13 A), David Goodwin (1 G, 15 A). MSU — Mason Appleton (8 G, 9 A), Taro Hirose (3 G, 8 A), Villiam Haag (4 G, 5 A).