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Penn State Men’s Hockey’s Special Teams Struggles In Notre Dame Series

The opening goal in Penn State men’s hockey’s game Saturday night came with a cost.

Reese Laubach was streaking toward the net with the puck after grabbing a pass from Matt DiMarsico on the wing. Laubach put the puck in the back of the net as he crashed toward Notre Dame goaltender Ryan Bischel’s crease but couldn’t stop himself before running into the goaltender and eventually being assessed a major penalty.

After some Irish players let the freshman know how they felt about the hit (and a lengthy review), Laubach was sent to the box for five minutes for charging the goalkeeper. It was a rare situation where the goal stood, but the goalscorer was still guilty of a penalty. Out of the bench came the penalty killers, facing a tough five-minute stand.

Penn State’s penalty kill was a strong unit to start the season and has posted consistent numbers during the four-game losing streak since the winter break. During Saturday night’s loss, though, three of Notre Dame’s four goals scored with Liam Souliere in net came via the power play.

The test of the penalty killers got much more difficult when Jarod Crespo was caught cross-checking a minute later and the Nittany Lions faced a five-on-three to end the first period.

“We had a five-minute major and two minutes of a five-on-three in between there so we’ve got to put together a game while staying out of the box,” head coach Guy Gadowsky said. “When we do get penalties, we have to find a way to kill them.”

The Nittany Lions skated to the break clinging to their one-goal lead with 43 seconds left on the five-on-three penalty. Penn State almost killed the remaining time, but Patrick Moynihan evened the game at one right as Crespo was leaving the box early in the second period.

While Laubach was released from the box without further incident, Penn State’s special teams continued to struggle and became the latest group to be put under the microscope by Gadowsky at his weekly media availability.

In the first game of the series Friday night, Penn State didn’t allow a power-play goal but also went 0-3 on power plays of its own. The power play unit has already been scrutinized with the group going 1-16 during the current four-game skid.

“It’s reactive, to be honest. You take the information that you received and you make sure you correct it,” Gadowsky said. “This week, it was the specialty teams.”

Gadowsky has done a lot of reacting after Penn State’s return from the winter break. After the comeback win against Army, he said the goaltending needed to improve. After Michigan State, the defense and the power play were cited as some things that went wrong. After the latest contest, it’s the specialty teams — with a focus on playing complimentary hockey.

“Our challenge really is putting our game together. There’s a lot of our game that’s really, really good.” Gadowsky said. “When a lot of it was good, I don’t think we kept the puck out of the net. When we’ve been able to keep the puck out of the net, we’ve taken penalties. It’s a matter of putting the game together.”

Against Notre Dame, it was the full-strength play that was clicking for Penn State with Souliere’s performance in goal garnering praise from Gadowsky. Despite the better defense, the Nittany Lions found themselves in a 3-1 hole with 17 minutes left in the game. Penn State didn’t back down and the offense came together, with a little help from the Irish, and tied the game at 3 apiece.

Penn State’s climb back was completed after an own goal from Ryan Birschel as he was headed to the bench for a delayed hooking penalty on Laubach. Penn State’s penalty kill faltered, and the game-winning goal came with a Nittany Lion in the box.

“We’re used to being one of the best teams in the nation in terms of penalties taken and we’re not right now,” Gadowsky said. “It’s not necessarily your power play or your [penalty kill] percentage that matters, it’s how many penalty-killing goals you allow. If you don’t take penalties, that’s a big part of it.”

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About the Author

CJ Doebler

CJ is a junior double majoring in broadcast journalism and finance. He is from Northumberland, Pa, just east of State College. CJ is an avid Pittsburgh sports fan, but chooses to ignore the Pirates' existence. For the occasional random retweet and/or bad take, follow @CDoebler on Twitter. All complaints can be sent to [email protected].

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