The offensive struggles of the Alex Limoges, Evan Barratt, Liam Folkes trio have been one of Penn State’s worst-kept secrets this season. That those offensive struggles have coincided with one of the Nittany Lions’ worst stretch of games should come as no surprise.
The Nittany Lions offense and success goes as The BFL Line goes.
The line’s lack of production isn’t the only reason Penn State went 1-3-2 in its first three conference weekends of 2020. Having the highest-scoring line of last season combine for four goals in that span certainly didn’t help, though.
Fortunately for the Nittany Lions, the line came back to life last weekend against Ohio State. Barratt netted a goal in both games and the line picked up nine points — three apiece — as the Nittany Lions took four out of six points from the Buckeyes to reclaim sole possession of first place in the Big Ten.
Penn State’s scoring depth is as good as it’s ever been, if not better, this season, with a new player or line acting as the hero seemingly every weekend. The Nittany Lions just seem to reach another gear when their top unit is clicking, though.
“I think when that line is playing high quality hockey, the team plays high quality hockey,” coach Guy Gadowsky said.
Among the three, Barratt returned to form in perhaps the most fantastic of manners. The Chicago Blackhawks draft pick is no stranger to SportsCenter’s Top 10, and though he’s had more spectacular tallies, his opening goal on Saturday was nonetheless an impressive display of skill.
NOT. A. B1G. DEAL.#SCTop10 No. 3⃣@BarrattEvan #WeAre #HockeyValley pic.twitter.com/1VMyH5azHb— Penn State Men’s Hockey (@PennStateMHKY) February 8, 2020
The home run hit was nothing new to Barratt, who played pretty much every sport there is growing up. Though he does more damage in the crease now, he clearly hasn’t lost his touch in the batter’s box
“I think I could step in there right now and be good.”
Gadowsky isn’t as surprised by Barratt’s theatrics anymore. He will forever be impressed with Barratt’s daringness to perform those in game.
“Even though he does practice that stuff, practicing and doing it when no one’s around and doing it at game speed when people are trying to hit you are two completely different things,” he said. “How he consistently finds unique ways to score is really amazing.”
With the amount of skill Penn State has at its disposal, it’s easy to assume the Nittany Lions would dominate what has appropriately been called a skills competition. That has been far from the case this season.
Quite the opposite, in fact.
After losing a two-round shootout against Ohio State on Friday, the Nittany Lions are now 0-2 in shootouts this season, having lost a seven-rounder the weekend prior against Notre Dame.
Nine shooters. Zero goals. Two vital points missed in the Big Ten standings.
Practice can only do so much for shootout success. Gadowsky told of a fellow coach whose team was struggling in shootouts and would have his players practice them on a daily basis. Gadowsky recalls that team winning just one of 12 shootouts that season.
“The next year, they’re like, ‘Well that didn’t work at all, so screw this,’” he said. “They didn’t practice at all and went 12-1.”
Over the past month or so, mental toughness has been a buzzer phrase in press conferences for Gadowsky, lamenting more than once how his team wasn’t as mentally prepared as the opposition.
There may be no greater test of mental toughness or preparedness than the mono a mono challenge that is the shootout.
Whether mental toughness is the true cause or a conspiracy theory, the point remains that the Nittany Lions have missed out on two Big Ten points — three if expanded to the 3-on-3 overtime period — in an event they should dominate.
Just as one day-to-day ailment comes to an end, another takes its place.
Gadowsky updated Clayton Phillips’ status as day-to-day, without saying whether he expected him in the lineup this weekend against Wisconsin. Given that Brandon Biro missed most of January under day-to-day status, Phillips’ timeline for a return isn’t clear.
Phillips has already missed five-straight games. The Nittany Lions have gone 2-1-2 without him in the lineup.