The opening few minutes of the game have been an area of concern for Penn State throughout the season. Although that was no different Saturday night, the Nittany Lions bounced back in a big way.
After surrendering a goal in the opening minute of the contest, the Lions rebounded strong and held on for a 7-4 win over Robert Morris, completing a weekend sweep of the Colonials.
“I give them a lot of credit,” Penn State coach Guy Gadowsky said. “They started out certainly a lot stronger than we did. When we were able to get ahead, they just kept coming.”
The Lions led by one goal late in the third period — but were finally able to put the game away with an empty-net goal by Nate Sucese and a power-play goal by Chase Berger with just 7.8 seconds to play.
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Player of the Game
Denis Smirnov: After scoring a goal in his first weekend back against Ohio State, the sophomore forward notched four points on a pair of goals and a pair of assists Saturday night. The performance capped off a five-point weekend for Smirnov, who also had a goal in Friday night’s 5-2 win.
Gadowsky acknowledged after the game the importance of having Smirnov back in the lineup.
“He adds a lot of offense and creativity to (the team), that’s for sure” he said. “I like to think we’re a pretty deep team and it’s ‘next man up’ mentality, but his vision and his creativity is really difficult to replace and it’s fun to watch.”
The Colonials opened the scoring on their first shot just 27 seconds into the contest, as Spencer Dorowicz fired a wrist shot over Peyton Jones’ blocker.
The Nittany Lions countered with three goals in an eight-minute span, including two just 1:39 apart. The Colonials cut the lead in half with a shorthanded goal with nine seconds to play in the opening frame.
After Trevor Hamilton gave the Lions a two-goal lead once again early in the second period, the Colonials once again countered with a goal with just under a minute to play in the middle frame.
The two teams traded goals midway through the third period before the Lions netted a pair of insurance tallies with under a minute to play.
A special night for special teams
The special teams battle is an important aspect of each hockey game. Seldom can a team emerge victorious if either its power play or penalty kill is struggling.
That was no concern for the Nittany Lions Saturday night.
The Lions went 3 for 6 with the man advantage and were even more dominant on the penalty kill, holding the Colonials to just three shots as they killed off all four attempts.
“Peyton had to make some huge saves and so did the goal posts,” Gadowsky said. “I think they were better on their power play than the statistics show. We were a little lucky.”
The Colonials entered the game scoring on more than 20 percent of their power plays, as 17 of their 41 goals this season have come via the man advantage. The Lions were well-aware of that and knew shutting down their power play was essential to securing the win.
Peyton Jones may only be a year and a half into his Penn State career, but he is already beginning to pile up the program records. Saturday night, he etched his name at the top of another key goaltending statistic.
With his 33rd career win, Jones passed Matthew Skoff for the most in Nittany Lions history. While the sophomore netminder is deserving of much of the credit for accomplishing the feat in just his 53rd career game, he has remained humble and passed some of that credit along to his teammates.
“It means a ton, but I couldn’t do it without my teammates,” he said. “Every night, they battle for me, back check and block shots. (They) put their bodies on the line for me, and I couldn’t have done it without them.”
The Nittany Lions will have nearly a month off as Penn State heads into its winter break. The team will resume play with a home conference series against Wisconsin on Jan. 5 and 6, the teams’ first matchup since their epic Big Ten championship game last season.