When the Penn State men’s hockey team needed to turn up the pressure, it instead was killing penalties.
“It’s tough against any team to continue to have momentum if you’re going to take three penalties in a period,” coach Guy Gadowsky said, “especially against a team like Minnesota.”
The No. 17 Golden Gophers scored a pair of second period goals, one on a power play, and put the defensive clamps on the Nittany Lions to take the first game of a weekend showdown at Pegula Ice Arena on Friday night.
Christian Isackson and Justin Kloos scored for the Golden Gophers (17-9-3, 8-2-3 Big Ten), who moved into first place alone the conference standings with the 2-1 victory. The win was Minnesota’s fifth straight, and the team is unbeaten in its last seven games.
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David Goodwin netted the lone goal for the Nittany Lions (15-10-4, 7-5-1), who outshot Minnesota 36-35 but could not get any more pucks past Adam Wilcox.
PJ Musico made 33 saves in the loss, making his fourth start in the last five games, as Penn State lost at home for just the second time this season and the first time in regulation.
“I think we can all agree that P.J. played well enough to give us a chance to win,” Goodwin said. “Which is all you can really ask for from a goalie.”
The teams tangle again at 5 p.m. Saturday.
While the Nittany Lions may lead the nation in shots per game, and had a few chances Friday night, there were few that were high quality, and hardly any during the second period when they were outshot 12-6 and forced to kill penalties.
“We’re not really a slow-it-down, pick-your-spots (team),” said Gadowsky, whose team has lost three straight. “That’s not really what we do. When we’re not finding a way to generate opportunities, we don’t look very cohesive.”
The Penn State players also were feeling the frustration as they failed to create chances in a game they needed to keep pace in the conference race.
“It was simply trying to create some momentum,” Goodwin said. “Obviously, we had some penalty issues tonight. It’s really hard to create that momentum when we’re in the box.”
Goodwin netted a highlight-worthy goal to open the scoring, skating in along the left boards while working a give-and-go with Taylor Holstrom, unleashing a wicked wrist shot that rang off the post and into the net. It was the sophomore’s 13th goal of the season, and Holstrom earned his 22nd assist of the year.
But two goals in the first five minutes of the second period decided the game.
Isackson tied the game for Minnesota 2:19 into the second, redirecting a shot by Jake Bishoff.
Kloos then put the Gophers ahead with a power play score, cutting between a pair of Lions near the boards toward the slot and firing a wrist shot over Musico’s shoulder.
“I had some space so I took it in and the ‘D’ kind of overplayed me on the side wall,” Kloos said. “I was able to get to the middle and luckily I was able to sneak one in the corner.”
Minnesota, which leads the nation in power-play conversions, was 1 for 4 with a man advantage. Penn State had just two opportunities, both without success.
The Nittany Lions did have a few good chances that were stuffed by Wilcox.
In the first period, Casey Bailey unloaded a rocket from the circle that Wilcox deflected. The puck trickled just wide of the net, and some fans celebrated what briefly appeared to be a goal.
With about five minutes left in the third period, Eric Scheid fed the puck across to a wide open Scott Conway for a wrist shot from the circle, but the goalie made a sprawling block to preserve the lead.
The three-goal total was a surprise, given both teams are in the nation’s top 10 in scoring, averaging better than three goals per game.
“(Wilcox) is on his game as of late,” Kloos said. “We weren’t really worried about them getting a soft one. We knew if we held them to a few chances, we were able to — it might hold up and be a game-winner.”
Notes: Saturday’s game will be shown on ESPNU. … The game officially was a sellout with 6,148 tickets sold, but there were pockets of empty seats, especially in the student section with Thon across the street at the Bryce Jordan Center. … The special Thon-themed jerseys worn by the team last month raised over $8,700 for the Thon effort. … Gadowsky declined to name a starting goalie for Saturday, saying he would discuss it with his assistant coaches before making a decision.