Over a two month stretch, everything seemed to be going Penn State’s direction. As the Nittany Lions were in the midst of their 11-game unbeaten streak, they were clicking on both sides of the puck, leading the nation in goals per game while ranking near the top in goals against.
Over the past three games — all losses — however, the Lions have looked like a drastically different team. Beginning with a 5-1 loss to Ohio State, the team has struggled to create chances in the offensive zone and have been exposed in their own end of the ice.
During the three-game slide, the Lions failed to score for over 165-straight minutes. After Nikita Pavlychev’s goal midway through the first period in that loss to the Buckeyes, the Lions went without a goal until the final two minutes of Saturday’s 3-2 loss to Michigan.
The scoring drought led to some drastic decisions for Guy Gadowsky and his coaching staff. The team shuffled its lineup for Saturday’s matchup with the Wolverines, as the only combination to remain intact was the line of Alex Limoges, Evan Barratt and Liam Folkes.
Gadowsky explained that the coaching staff spent plenty of time discussing the lineup changes and felt it was a necessary step to getting the team back on track.
“The whole idea behind it was, we were playing well, but we hadn’t scored and it was a matter of a jump start,” he said. “It was a matter of just something to just jar us up a little bit.”
While the changes didn’t produce immediate results, Gadowsky was pleased with the Lions’ performance on Saturday, despite the loss.
“I really liked our mentality and I really liked our chances,” he said, “but we didn’t find a way to win and find a way to bury it until the end.”
Week in and week out, Guy Gadowsky claims the team doesn’t focus much on the outside noise surrounding the team. While the Lions have been in the top 20 of the USCHO Poll for much of the season and in the conversation for an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament, they do their best to keep their attention on the weekend’s opponent.
With the season nearing its close, however, the Lions may want to put a bit more emphasis on moving up in the rankings.
Gadowsky’s squad entered its weekend matchup with the Woverines at No. 12 in the PairWise rankings, putting them in a comfortable position for the at-large bid. A pair of losses in Ann Arbor bumped the Lions onto the Tournament bubble and with just eight games remaining in the regular season, the Lions are running low on time to make up ground.
Gadowsky isn’t too concerned about his team’s chances, however, and is looking to recent history for a bode of confidence.
“The biggest thing is, I believe in those guys,” he said. “They get it done. They were the ones that got it done [last season], when their backs were against the wall, regardless of what attitude the coaching staff brought. We believe in them and we believe that’s what they’re going to do again.”
During the last few weeks of the 2016-17 season, the Lions found themselves in a similar position, needing every win they could get to reach the NCAA Tournament. That at-large bid was eventually not necessary after they received an automatic bid by winning the Big Ten Tournament, but the experience from last season can help the Lions get through their current air of desperation.
The remaining schedule also benefits the Lions, as Notre Dame and Minnesota are both ahead of the Lions in the PairWise, with this weekend’s opponent, Wisconsin, not far behind the Lions.
“I guess we can be thankful that we’re in this position,” Gadowsky said. “We’re in a position that we’re in the conversation and we’re playing teams that will allow us to continue to move up. That’s a great thing. It’s a great opportunity.”
It’s starting to seem that Penn State’s defense will never be fully healthy this season. After getting Kevin Kerr back on Friday from a nearly endless string of injuries, the Nittany Lions were without Erik Autio for Saturday’s matchup with Michigan.
Autio missed the final six games of the 2017 calendar year, but returned for the Lions first game of 2018. The senior defenseman has not scored a point in five games since that return and has a minus-4 rating in that span.