Last week, we suggested a few gifts that Guy Gadowsky might like to find under his Christmas tree. Keeping with the holiday spirit, it’s now time to start fresh with a few New Year’s resolutions.
Don’t Let the Winter Break Ruin Momentum
For the first few seasons as a Division-I program, Penn State had the benefit of a pair of games over winter break. The Three Rivers Classic, held in Pittsburgh, provided the Nittany Lions an opportunity to stay focused during the holiday season.
Last season, however, the Lions did not participate in the annual event. The result was a team that looked flat coming out of its month-long hiatus. After starting the season 13-1-1, the 2016-17 Lions went 8-10-1 through the remainder of the regular season.
Of course, that team also went on to win the Big Ten Tournament and come within one game of the Frozen Four, but the month-long gap between games halted much of the momentum the team built early in the season.
The Lions are currently in the home stretch of that hiatus, with their first game since December 9 less than a week away. While it may take a game or two to get back up to speed, the effect of the time off may be very different this year.
Unlike last season, the Lions have had a tumultuous start to the year. They hovered around .500 over the first dozen games before an eight-game unbeaten streak carried them into the break with more confidence. The Lions certainly have momentum heading into the second half of the season, but it is more tempered momentum, as there have been concerning moments even during their undefeated streak.
Stop Giving Up Odd-Man Rushes
This has been the bane of Guy Gadowsky’s existence during his time at Penn State. The Nittany Lions aggressive offense has been a blessing and a curse. While the Lions pile up shots and goals on their opponent, they also afford them far too many scoring opportunities.
Those scoring opportunities largely come in the form of odd-man rushes, where the Lions’ defense is outnumbered by the opposing attack. An outnumbered attack may force the remaining defenseman to commit to blocking a shot or disrupting a pass.
Either scenario can create a prime scoring chance against Peyton Jones. While his 6-foot-4 frame is beneficial, he can easily be caught out of position by either committing himself to the initial shot or the one-time chance that comes from a cross-crease pass.
Revamp the Power Play
The Nittany Lions power play has become fairly predictable. Their top unit largely (and rightfully) runs through Denis Smirnov, who will often be found sneaking in from the point, taking a pass from Erik Autio, then either firing a wrist shot through Nikita Pavlychev’s screen or trying to send a pass across the ice to Cole Hults for a one timer.
It’s a simple strategy that practically forces the opponent to commit to either Smirnov’s deadly wrist shot or Hults’ lethal one timer. While it’s often effective, the strategy can quickly become stale, as it forces Smirnov and Hults to remain in a small corner of the ice.
Opponents can easily shadow both players and force either Autio or Pavlychev to make a play on their own. With respect to both players, Autio’s shot is not powerful enough to beat a goaltender, while Pavlychev doesn’t have the stick skills to deflect the shot or beat the goaltender on a rebound.
While the Lions can also rely on a strong second unit featuring Andrew Sturtz, a more developed — and reconfigured — top unit may improve the team’s efficiency with the man advantage.