It’s a strange feeling these days for the Penn State men’s hockey team.
The Nittany Lions are on their first losing streak since late last season.
They have lost two straight, are winless in their last three and have only won three games since sweeping Michigan the first two days of December.
There are a number of areas where the team hasn’t been as strong in recent weeks as it was when they faced the Wolverines, but the defense has been a major concern.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Centre Daily Times
Head coach Guy Gadowsky took the blame for the troubles, capped by a 5-4 loss to Princeton on Saturday in Philadelphia, blowing a 4-2 third-period lead. It was the first regulation loss all season after entering the third with a lead.
“My lack of attention right now to the defensive habits, which has caused us to give up too many good chances that we haven’t in the past,” Gadowsky said Monday at his weekly session with the media. “We have to get back to that.”
They are hoping to have the issues solved by the time the No. 6 Nittany Lions (16-4-2, 5-2-1 Big Ten) visit No. 7 Minnesota (15-7-2, 6-2) at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Penn State remains the nation’s top offense, scoring 4.41 goals per game, nearly a half-goal ahead of Ohio State, the No. 2 scoring team, and by far leads the nation in shots per game (48), that it can be easy to overlook what the defense had been doing.
“We focus so much on that side of the puck that I think I took my eye off the ball a little bit in terms of defensive habits,” Gadowsky said. “Give Princeton a lot of credit for how they played.”
The team defense had been just as impressive. After the sweeping the Wolverines, Penn State had the nation’s No. 3 defense, allowing 1.87 goals per game. They have dropped to No. 14, allowing 2.36 per game. Since the start of the year, they have surrendered 24 goals in seven games.
It would be easy to lay blame on freshman goalie Peyton Jones, who has been in goal for each of the last seven games, but only a handful of those scores would draw criticism for the freshman, while most were the result of defensive breakdowns including a number of breakaways and opponents left alone in front of the net.
“I don’t think, by any means, is Peyton playing poorly at all,” Gadowsky said. “The goals-against is a good reflection of a little bit of a lack of detail to that area.”
So, what’s the plan on fixing the issue? It will be a point of emphasis all week and beyond.
“You do it through practice,” Gadowsky said. “… And then you get to test ourselves. It’s a lot of work and repetition in practice, and fortunately we have a great group of guys that understand working hard and want to work hard.”