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Denis Smirnov Returns to the Lineup as Penn State Visits Ohio State

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The Russian forward has missed the past eight games with an illness.

Photo By Heather Weikel

Guy Gadowsky’s squad has long prided itself on having a high-powered offense. Including this season, Penn State has been in the top ten in goals-per-game for three straight seasons, highlighted by last season’s No. 1 finish with over four goals per game.

The Nittany Lions have had a few catalysts for that high-powered attack, led from the defense by the likes of Vince Pedrie and now Cole Hults. Up front, alternate captain Chase Berger and all-time leading goal scorer Andrew Sturtz have led the charge on the top line.

For the past eight games, the Lions have been without the services of their most potent offensive threat, Denis Smirnov.

The sophomore forward has missed the past four weekend series with an illness, but will rejoin the lineup this weekend as the Lions visit Ohio State for a matchup against the Buckeyes.

Without Smirnov, the Lions have averaged over four goals per game, but will certainly welcome the Russian forward back to the lineup. In the eight games Smirnov has played, the Lions are 4-4-0 with Smirnov scoring the game-winning goal in three of those wins.

“You get a lot back with him. He’s, I’d say, the smartest player on our team with the puck,” linemate Brandon Biro said Monday. “Obviously his offensive numbers speak for themselves. He creates a lot of chances. He gets a lot of attention from [the other team’s] top players so it kind of opens up space for other guys. Having a guy like that back is huge.”

In Smirnov’s place, Gadowsky slotted freshman Sam Sternschein alongside Nate Sucese and Biro. Sternschein has potted three goals and recorded six points in the eight games Smirnov has missed, earning a more permanent spot in the lineup.

“Sternschein absolutely did what he had to do to make a case for him to be in the lineup every night,” Gadowsky said. “Now it’s just a matter of finding synergy with him and someone else and that’s what’s going to happen, at least on Friday.”

Scouting Ohio State

The Buckeyes boasted one of the top offenses last season, netting 3.92 goals per game, good for third in the nation. After losing Nick Schilkey and David Gust — who registered 41 points each — to graduation, the Buckeyes offense has taken a dip this season, down to 2.71 goals per game.

Instead, Steve Rohlik’s team is being carried by its defense and goaltender Sean Romeo. The junior transfer from Maine has started all but one game for the Buckeyes, going 7-3-3 and ranking in the top ten in both goals-against average and save percentage.

The contrasting strengths between last season and this year have carried over to special teams for the Buckeyes. After posting the best power play percentage last season, the Buckeyes currently sit 45th in power play efficiency this year at just 15.5 percent.

It has been the opposite story for the Buckeyes’ penalty kill. Last season, the Buckeyes killed off just 74.5 percent of their penalties, the fourth-worst rate in the nation. This year, the Buckeyes rank first in penalty killing, holding the opposition scoreless on 92.2 percent of their power plays.