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Penn State Hitting Offensive Stride As It Welcomes Michigan State

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The Nittany Lions will look to better establish their offensive identity while continuing their early season Big Ten success.

Heather Weikel/Black Shoe Diaries

It’s become a broken record at this point, but Penn State lives for offense. Though he has made a stronger commitment to defense this season, coach Guy Gadowsky would still rather see his team win a game 6-5 than 2-1.

His Nittany Lions have perennially put up shooting and scoring numbers seldom seen in the collegiate game, let alone the professional ranks.

“You see some of the trends in the NHL that are heading that way as well. Now, you’re seeing shot totals that are above 50,” he said. “There’s probably more similarities between how we’re playing to more of the professional teams than in the past.”

Last season, the Nittany Lions reached 40 or more shots 22 times, or 56 percent of their games. This year, they’ve hit that mark just twice in seven games, barely more than a quarter of their contests. Despite the dip in shots taken, the Nittany Lions are on par from last season with 4.6 goals per game.

Through his coaching career, Gadowsky hasn’t put as much weight into goal output as other offensive tendencies.

“The thing about goals in hockey is that they occur very seldomly. You average seven goals a game, that’s seven data points in a 60 minute game between two teams is actually very little information to get,” he explained. “We try to more judge how we play around chances and things like that.”

The first few games of the season weren’t exactly encouraging for Gadowsky. Though the Nittany Lions have roared out to a 6-1-0 start, it took until last weekend’s series against Wisconsin for them to live up to the standard of “Penn State Hockey” Gadowsky sets.

“I think the numbers we had earlier in the season were an aberration,” he said. “I don’t think it was indicative of the tempo or how we want to play.”

Scouting Michigan State

This year’s Spartans will look very similar to the 2018-19 incarnation, as coach Danton Cole lost just three seniors. Their most impactful departure came as Taro Hirose forwent his final season of eligibility to sign with the Detroit Red Wings. Hirose tied Alex Limoges for the NCAA lead with 50 points as part of the KHL line.

The other two members of that trio, Patrick Khodorenko and Mitchell Lewandowski, have felt his absence this season. Both have just one goal through six games, though Khodorenko has added five assists to lead the Spartans with six points.

The goaltending duties have been evenly split this season between John Lethemon and Drew DeRidder, though the numbers suggest that Lethemon should be getting the bulk of the work. He has been in goal for both Spartans wins this season, while DeRidder is winless in three outings with a goals-against average over three and a sub-.900 save percentage.