Reasons For & Against Penn State Men’s Hockey’s Big Ten Tournament Success

It’s that time of the year, folks. Playoff hockey is here.

Penn State men’s hockey will travel to Columbus in an attempt to defeat No. 12 Ohio State and move on to its seventh consecutive Big Ten Tournament semifinal appearance.

The Nittany Lions’ regular season was a roller coaster, to say the least. There have been many ups and downs, but the team now finds itself as the fourth seed in the tournament. There are reasons to believe the Nittany Lions can run the table, but there are doubts to suggest they won’t. Let’s dive right into it with the negatives first.

Mental Fragility

Not having the mental toughness to win close games has been a common theme for the Nittany Lions this season. Even though there was a brief period where head coach Guy Gadowsky thought the team was over that issue, it still came back to haunt the Nittany Lions. We’ve seen plenty of instances where Penn State came out of the locker room with dominant starts but let games slip away through bad penalties and self-inflicted wounds.

Poor Third Period Play

This goes hand-and-hand with the team’s mental toughness issue. Closing out games has also been an issue for Penn State all season long.

The Nittany Lions have outscored their opponents 71-61 in the first two periods this season but have been heavily outscored 35-50 in the third period. The team’s most recent third-period collapse came when the team gave up three goals to No. 5 Minnesota in its last home series of the regular season to lose 6-4, a game in which the Nittany Lions held a 3-0 lead.

On the bright side, the Nittany Lions may have begun to reverse this narrative by scoring four third-period goals in its most recent win over Michigan State.

Shaky Special Teams

While the Nittany Lions have a solid power-play percentage of .206, which ranks third-best in the Big Ten, their penalty kill ranks sixth at .754. Taking too many penalties at bad times was an issue for Penn State earlier in the season, but the team started to clean up that issue by becoming more disciplined. Unfortunately, taking penalties is almost inevitable, and you need a reliable penalty kill to survive shorthanded stints on the ice.

Moving onto more positive thoughts, the Nittany Lions have also shown signs of life in its last series with Michigan State, which suggested that they might be finally putting all the pieces together to play a complete game.

Here are a few reasons to be optimistic for the Nittany Lions’ tournament chances.

The Talent Is There

Even though this team can’t put it all together at times, it still has a tremendous amount of talent. Between Ryan Kirwan blossoming as a freshman star, Jimmy Dowd Jr. having one of the best hockey IQs in the country, and Paul DeNaples’ veteran presence, it’s all there. We have seen games where the team puts all of its talent together and play sa complete hockey game, like its upset over No. 6 North Dakota in Nashville back in October. If that happens again, the Big Ten better watch out.

Liam Souliere Is The Truth

The last person on a hockey team that can prevent a goal is your goaltender, and you’re going to let up a lot of them if you don’t have a good one. Penn State doesn’t have that problem.

Liam Souliere will start in goal in game one of the series and will most likely start again in the following game(s) if all goes well Friday night. The Ontario native boasts a 2.99 goals-against average in 11 starts this season, but it’s a bit misleading. If you take out his starts against Michigan and Notre Dame, when he let in six and seven goals, respectively, his goals-against average drops to 2.23, which is a very solid mark. He’s proved he can handle high-pressure situations and make a big save when Penn State needs it, and he will give the Nittany Lions the best chance to win.

Hockey Is Random

If you watch hockey, you know this is true. It’s not like many other sports where the best team often wins. All it takes is getting hot at the right moment and some puck luck. That’s how Penn State won the 2017 Big Ten Tournament. That team was not a favorite to win by any means, but it got hot at the right moment, got a few good bounces, and took advantage of every opportunity it was given. This current team seems fully capable of doing that, too.

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About the Author

Frankie Marzano

Frankie is a senior accounting and economics major from Long Island, NY. You can probably recognize him as the typical Italian-American with slicked back black hair. He is an avid fan of the New York Rangers and Mets, along with every Penn State Athletics team. Follow him on Twitter @frankiemarzano for obnoxious amounts of Rangers and Penn State content or email him at [email protected].

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