Penn State Hockey’s Goalie Carousel: A Blessing, Not A Curse
“If you have three goalies, you have none.”
That’s the popular adage, and sure, there’s a degree of reason to it. Taking away minutes from your best player helps no one. But what if there isn’t a clear best?
Evidence debating the saying exists everywhere. When Dunder Mifflin tried to have two regional managers, the ensuing weeks were chaos. On the other hand, when Ohio State had to transition through three quarterbacks this season, it resulted in an improbable national championship.
Eamon McAdam, P.J. Musico, and Matt Skoff have all had stretches this season where they were the “hot hand” that their coaching staff had no choice but to turn to. No. 19 Penn State has a solid record of 15-7-4 while scoring 3.58 goals per game and allowing 2.73.
When the Big Ten (and hopefully NCAA) Tournament(s) come around, the coaching staff will likely do what it’s done all season: ride the hot hand. However, judging by the first two-thirds of the season, who that will be is still up in the air. Here’s why any goalie can make a run to be the starter, and why Penn State can find success with any of them.
The Case for Eamon McAdam, Prospective Islander
Penn State’s most fundamentally and professionally-recognized goalie has middling statistics this year, but arguably does have the most potential. McAdam was the 70th-overall pick in the 2013 NHL Draft, and the New York Islanders get the credit for making him the only drafted Penn State goalie.
His .913 save percentage is second on the team, but his 2.91 goals against per game is the team’s worst mark. Those marks are both heavily affected by an outlier, though, as McAdam allowed 8 goals on 45 shots against Michigan earlier in the season.
That game was the symbolic end of his run as the “hot hand,” a title he carried since earning a win in one of the biggest upsets in Penn State hockey history, beating No. 4 UMass-Lowell 4-1.
His record of 4-2-1 looks pretty good, but with the expectations a third-round NHL draft pick faces, more appearances would be ideal. If he catches fire down this final Big Ten stretch, snowballs some confidence, and regains the starting position, his raw talent will be a huge lift for the Penn State team.
The Case for P.J. Musico, Unsung Hero
Musico, traditionally the third guy on the depth chart, has elite statistics in the smallest sample size. His .938 save percentage, 1.92 goals-against average, and 4-1-1 record look great, but history doesn’t provide much reassurance as to how long he’ll keep it up. His last two seasons both saw save percentages under .900 and goals-against averages above 3.00.
However, history is history for a reason. Musico has been thrown into the fire on numerous occasions this year, and has performed nothing short of admirably. Against Ohio State, with his team down 3-1 and starter Matt Skoff chased from the net, Musico stepped in and after allowing another goal, willed his team to score three straight goals to force overtime.
In the first game of the Northern Michigan series, Skoff was again given the start but was chased from the net once the Wildcats took a 4-1 lead. The reins were once again given to Musico, who didn’t allow any more goals and watched his offense score four straight goals to earn the 5-4 win. He was rewarded for his efforts with the start the next night, and inspired his team to erase two three-goal deficits en route to a 5-5 tie.
Despite a sketchy history, Musico has easily been the team’s best goaltender over the past few weeks. His team plays much better in front of him than it does in front of any other candidate. If Musico keeps up his current hot streak, the senior is the easy choice to stop pucks in postseason play. If he begins to revert to his past self, he could find himself on a short leash.
The Case for Matt Skoff, Incumbent MVP
The junior has the most interesting story of the three goalies. Voted the team MVP after last season, Skoff was declared the starter before this season and played in its first nine games.
Skoff boasts the team’s second-best goals-against average at 2.70, but the team’s lowest save percentage, .907.
With more games played than any of his fellow netminders, Skoff’s lesser numbers are the most telling, but it also proves that his success is maintainable. He has started for 15 of the team’s 26 games and holds a 7-4-2 record. Although he has never made an appearance in relief of another goalie, the coaching staff has trusted him multiple times to start a game right after a weaker performance by either McAdam or Musico.
If the coaching staff wants the goalie with the most experience, they should turn to Matt Skoff. His save percentage looks disconcerting, but should Musico falter and Penn State needs a new starter, the most consistent performer should get the title.