We’re halfway through the season, and Penn State is performing about as well as 3.6 roentgen. Not great, not terrible.
Through 14 games, the Nittany Lions have gone 7-7-0, good for fifth in an aggressively tight Big Ten conference.
For a while, Penn State looked dead in the water. A five-game losing streak to open the season will do that to a team. But, then, seven wins in the next nine games can really make the season look brighter.
No, the Nittany Lions aren’t their best selves yet despite their recent run of form. There’s plenty to be optimistic about, however.
During their season-opening five-game losing skid, the most glaring weakness in the Nittany Lions game was an inability to put the puck in the net. Sure, they also couldn’t keep the puck out of their own net, but prior squads have been able to compensate for that by scoring at will. For a while, it seemed this year’s squad wouldn’t have that luxury.
Suddenly and seemingly out of nowhere, everything clicked in a 9-5 drubbing of Michigan.
Prior to that game, Alex Limoges and Tim Doherty, the expected offensive catalysts, had combined for two goals and four points. In the nine games since, both have 11 points. Those two certainly help raise the GPA of this group.
Christian Sarlo has performed admirably as the third member of that line, with six points in 13 games.
Beyond that top line, however, there remains a bit to be desired. Kevin Wall has taken the next step in his development, ranking second on the team in goals (six) and points (13). Aarne Talvitie has done very well, but is clearly lacking the same explosiveness from his freshman season, prior to his knee injury at the World Junior Championships.
Aside from that grouping and sometimes Chase McLane, there’s a clear lack of creativity in the offensive zone. Penn State’s brand has long been gain the blue line and shoot the puck, but for some lines, that is their only course of attack. It’s worked for some — the two Connors have combined for five goals — but is a terribly ineffective method when they run into a hot goalie.
Inevitably, Doherty and Limoges will hit a cold streak, and there may not be enough firepower beyond the team’s top-4 to overcome.
Going purely off goals against, Penn State’s defense corps is having a rough season. Of course, those numbers won’t tell the whole story and are skewed by early-season results, when pretty much everyone was getting accustomed to new partners and/or were playing their first collegiate games.
Now that they’re settling into more consistent pairings, the results have been much more favorable. Jimmy Dowd Jr. has impressed, tying Evan Bell for the team lead with two goals and seven points. Christian Berger is doing his best to live up to the family name.
One of the more shocking developments of the season has been the Nittany Lions ability to sit back and preserve leads. Highlighted by the program’s first-ever (and maybe last-ever) 1-0 win, the Nittany Lions have much better situational awareness this season, knowing when to continue to press the issue and when to emulate the 1990s New Jersey Devils.
Oskar Autio appears to be settling into the No. 1 role. Heading into the season, he and Liam Soulière were in open competition for the starting job.
Soulière has been okay for a freshman goaltender. He’s shown glimpses of his potential, but has been prone to the mistakes of a young goalie. His decisions playing the puck have been questionable at times and he’s given up goals in bunches.
Autio is still prone to giving up a soft goal on occasion, but has looked considerably more comfortable in net. Both keepers are short in stature for their position, but Autio better utilizes his angles to take away as much of the net as possible.