Men’s Hockey Faces No. 16 St. Lawrence In Biggest Challenge So Far
The nation’s highest-scoring, highest-shooting, and most efficient powerplay hosts one of the nation’s best defenses Thursday and Friday night at Pegula Ice Arena. Penn State’s start to the season has blown away all expectations, with four wins by at least two goals, and one loss to the similarly talented Notre Dame Fighting Irish. No. 16 St. Lawrence has seen similar success, with four wins and losses to currently ranked No. 15 Miami (Ohio) and No. 17 Merrimack.
Though their records are similar, the teams’ styles of play couldn’t be more jarring. Penn State leads the nation by far with 5.6 goals per game, a .438 powerplay percentage, and in true Penn State fashion, 44.2 shots per game. St. Lawrence ranks 19th, 53rd, and 18th respectively in those categories.
At the other end of the ice is a completely different story. St. Lawrence doesn’t need to win games on goal-scoring. The Saints have allowed 12 goals to Penn State’s 17, though they’ve played one fewer game. They have the tenth-best penalty kill, while Penn State’s is the nation’s fourth-worst. And the Saints’ roster possesses the biggest factor in this series, goaltender Kyle Hayton.
If there isn’t enough exposition to make this obvious, the games will be decided by whether or not Penn State’s elite offense can continue to work against Hayton and his defense. St. Lawrence features arguably the best defense Penn State will face this season, excluding traditional powerhouse Big Ten teams like Minnesota and Michigan State. It’d be a shock if Penn State scored at the rate its set this season. That would mean six goals in a game, and that would be half of what St. Lawrence has allowed in six games.
The key category to watch out for is shots on goal. Both Penn State and St. Lawrence have faced an average of 26 shots per game this year. Look for Penn State’s average to stay similar, with its decent efense matching up fine with a good-enough Saints offense. At the other end, St. Lawrence will have to deal with something unprecedented. Guy Gadowsky’s team will pour on the offense — fans that have seen a game in person know what I mean. For fans who haven’t, there aren’t sufficient words to describe it. No NHL or college team over the last two seasons has executed this style of offense like this. Hayton will face a shot count in the high 30s to mid 40s, and we’ll find out if he can maintain his elite .925 save percentage and sub-2.00 goals-against average.
Penn State’s defense and St. Lawrence’s offense might not see as much time facing off against each other, but they’ll obviously play a role in the outcome. Gadowsky hasn’t named a starter in net for either game, but logic points to Eamon McAdam, whose middling statistics are better than Matt Skoff’s bad ones, and it doesn’t look like the team is heading towards the three-goalie rotation it employed last year — sorry, Chris Funkey. Whoever is in net doesn’t have much to worry about, with the Saints’ leading scorer having four points in six games (for reference, one Nittany Lion has five points, four more have seven, and Loik has ten, and they’ve played a maximum of five games). Penn State can’t seem to hold teams to two goals or fewer, despite how much the offense struggles, so expect the Saints to get on the board, but an outstanding showing would be a shock.
What’s most impressive are the teams’ margins of goals scored versus goals against. The Saints have only one “minus” player on their roster, and the Lions only have three. That parity is why this series has “split” written all over it. For teams not named Penn State, goaltending and defense win games. Penn State has the flashy statistics and massive home-ice advantage, but St. Lawrence has traditional structure and national recognition.
Speaking of national recogntion, with one or two wins and more excellent offense, stay tuned on Monday for the latest national rankings. Penn State sits three spots out of the rankings as it is, and should need just one more good weekend to finally break in.