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Denis Smirnov Breaks 11-Game Goal Drought In Emphatic Fashion

Denis Smirnov’s 2018-19 season hasn’t exactly gone according to plan.

Smirnov had scored just five goals and recorded 11 assists in 28 games played entering last weekend’s series against Wisconsin — a far cry from his 2016-17 output of 47 points in 39 appearances to set a single-season record on Penn State’s path to the Big Ten Championship.

The junior wing trailed off a bit as a sophomore, but stayed close to a point-per-game clip with 15 goals and 12 assists in 30 games last season. Statistically, the 2018-19 season has been the worst of Smirnov’s career, and it includes an 11-game goalless drought in the second half of the season.

That came to an end in emphatic fashion Friday night. Smirnov slammed home the rebound of a Kevin Kerr point shot to extend the Nittany Lion lead to 2-0 against the Badgers and finally threw the monkey from his back. That goal was the first of four points he’d record in the series, and the Big Ten named him the weekend’s second star for his effort.

“I think [Smirnov] was more aggressive all over,” head coach Guy Gadowsky said. “His forechecking was better than the goals he scored. He was skating — he was aggressive, and he was skating hard. When he plays that way, good things happen.”

The Colorado Avalanche prospect simply hadn’t gone through a goal drought like this in his college career before this season. His rotten luck in terms of goal scoring seemed like it would continue early Friday night when a trademark Smirnov wrist shot rang off the iron and bounced away from danger when the game was tied at zero.

It might be easy for a player to get frustrated in the midst of an 11-game slump, but the junior’s positive attitude never wavered.

“It was definitely a good feeling,” Smirnov said. “You always have ups and downs — you always hit posts, and you always see goalies make amazing saves. You just have to stay in the game and be positive going forward.”

Gadowsky said he was “perplexed” by Smirnov’s decline in production a few weeks ago and that players in a deep drought work their way out of it. Despite the lower offensive output, his game hasn’t necessarily fallen behind too much.

Ludvig Larsson has spent the vast majority of this season on a line with Smirnov on his left wing and junior Nate Sucese on the right flank. Not scoring a goal in 11 games may warrant using terms like “drought” and “slump,” but Larsson hasn’t seen a slumping player to his left.

“I don’t think he’s been in a slump,” Larsson said. “He’s been playing well. The thing is, everyone compares him to his freshman year, and we know how good he can be. He still plays the right way, he’s been working really hard, and he’s done extra work in the weight room.”

Although he was held pointless in Penn State’s 7-3 defeat on Saturday, Smirnov’s offensive explosion on Friday is an encouraging sign entering the most crucial stretch of games this season. The Nittany Lions currently hold the No. 18 position in the PairWise rankings, and a regular season-ending away series against fellow bubble team Notre Dame looms large.

Smirnov showing signs of his 2016-17 form is encouraging, but he and his teammates will need to fire on all cylinders if they want to play for a national title for the third consecutive season.

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About the Author

Mikey Mandarino

In the most upsetting turn of events, Mikey graduated from Penn State with a digital & print journalism degree in the spring of 2020. He covered Penn State football and served as an editor for Onward State from 2018 until his graduation. Mikey is from Bedminster, New Jersey, so naturally, he spends lots of time yelling about all the best things his home state has to offer. Mikey also loves to play golf, but he sucks at it because golf is really hard. If you, for some reason, feel compelled to see what Mikey has to say on the internet, follow him on Twitter @Mikey_Mandarino. You can also get in touch with Mikey via his big-boy email address: [email protected]

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