When a team spends two straight months winning, sometimes you forget what it’s like to lose. No.6 Penn State dropped two in-a-row for the first time this season, but sitting in Pegula’s media room on Monday, it felt more like seven.
Andrew Sturtz came through with a necessary reminder for some: This is supposed to be enjoyable.
“You gotta have fun with it. I mean, if you told us we’d be where we are right now in August then I’d be pretty happy,” he said. “You know what? We’ll get back on track this week…We’ll go to Minnesota and have some fun.”
Coach Guy Gadowsky essentially shared this sentiment, pointing out that no team was expected to go 31-3 and it’s not like Princeton demolished Penn State — the Tigers won with less than two minutes to play, with a puck three Nittany Lions thought went out of play. Penn State did blow a two-goal lead, but this isn’t some season-defining turning point.
Gadowsky acknowledged the recent defensive slump, though. Penn State’s allowed 11 goals through its last two games– the most it has allowed consecutively all season.
“Defensively, we absolutely have to get better and that’s on me. It’s because we’ve been focusing on the other side of the puck a bit. The goals against [recently]is about the lack of attention to detail.”
The slate ahead is full of Big Ten opponents, and this weekend’s road game against No. 7 Minnesota is arguably the most important series of the season thus far. Hold its own, and Penn State is as good as it seemed on that win-streak. Fall apart, and Penn State loses Big Ten reign to a school that never really believed in it to begin with.
This head-to-head feels like old college hockey vs. new college hockey duking it out to prove a point — is Penn State here to stay? Gadowsky sees it as a chance to rise up, not a hassle.
“We’re going to Minnesota to play the Gophers…it doesn’t get much better a challenge than that. You can look at it either way — the bigger the difficulty the bigger the opportunity. Things are going against us right now, and we have to figure out a way to come out of it.”
Aside from defense, a few key players haven’t been putting up the numbers they were before the Ohio State series. Denis Smirnov once led the nation in points. He hasn’t tallied one in the last three games. Of course, this happens in the ebb and flow of a season, but this has clearly taken a toll on top of sloppy defense.
“I had a talk with Denny [Smirnov…you have to love Gadowsky’s nicknames. Jimmy Pucks is my favorite.] and some others. Dylan Richard is in a funk also,” Gadowsky said. “We asked their opinion on what’s going on and if it’s fixable we correct it, but often it’s just a matter of sports. Sometimes you have a great effort that doesn’t always materialize. You can’t get too down, because that’s when you get into trouble. You just have to keep going…usually it works.”
I wouldn’t exactly classify a two-game losing streak as a slump. Bulldozing through this week with a focus on defense and fun should patch things up for the Nittany Lions.