After Penn State's wild weekend against Northern Michigan, the Nittany Lions started to garner some interest in regards to their shooting habits.
In case you haven't heard, Penn State put up a staggering season-high 64 shots against the Wildcats in their 5-5 tie Saturday evening. Over the course of the weekend, the Nittany Lions outshot Northern Michigan 117-59 and went onto sweep the weekend with a tie and a win after outscoring the Wildcats in an arms race of a series 10-9.
Puck Daddy picked up the story and broke down some of the numbers while others believed -- sorry Chris -- that Penn State was benefiting off home ice advantage:
Penn State has been credited with 44 shots on goal through two periods today. I'm calling hometown bookkeeping on that one.— Chris Dilks (@ChrisDilks) January 24, 2015
It's an all together possible case, but all season long the Nittany Lions have consistently outshot their opponents, at home and away. And, despite all the commotion made about Penn State's high shot count, it's been a positive for their team and one of the reasons why they've defied expectations in their second Division I season.
A look at the stats
Penn State has 963 shots on goal in the 2014-15 season. In 23 games, their average of 41.9 shots per game is the highest in the NCAA and dwarfs the average of 36.0 put up by Robert Morris, the second overall team, who has played three more games than the Nittany Lions. Behind the Colonials is Penn State's conference rival Michigan, with an average 35.1 in 22 games, and the only other Big Ten team in the top 10 in the NCAA in average shots per game.
On the flip side, Penn State's allowed 710 shots this season for an average of a reasonable 30.9 per game for their opponents. Their average is no where near the top 10 in the country in shots allowed, with Army rounding out that list at 33.0 in the same game span as the Nittany Lions.
So, while Penn State's putting a lot of shots on goaltenders, they aren't giving up nearly as much as they're dishing out.
Compared to last year, the Nittany Lions put up an above average 35.2 per game while allowing 32.9 -- a much closer margin than this season's. Penn State also managed to increase their shooting by over six shots a game and are a scant three hundred from their 1,261 mark a season ago with 13 games remaining on the schedule.
It took until Nov. 21 in a game against Michigan a month and a half into the season for Penn State to be outshot by their opponents in a game. Of Penn State's 23 games this season, only in three of them were the Nittany Lions outshot -- by margins of twelve, three, and one respectively.
Their record in those games? Two wins and one loss.
And to somewhat quiet the rumors of hometown bias, nine of their 20 games outshooting opponents this season have either been at away or neutral sites, with no way that just over half of those 20 could have swung the dial that far for the Nittany Lions.
Penn State also boasts the mantle of being tied for sixth in team offense this season with an average of 3.48 goals per game, in a deadlock with UMass Lowell and North Dakota, and a major rise from their 2.22 average of last season. On the other side of the ice, they've giving up an average 2.87 goals per game, significantly down from last season's 3.58.
However, Penn State's shooting percentage is at 8.3 while their opponents are just a hair above them at 9.3. An interesting situation, considering their high shot count, but miles better than their 6.3 percentage from a year ago.
A snapshot of quality
Let's look at a period of Saturday's game against the Wildcats where Penn State posted 64 shots in the 65 minute match. The chart above captures action from the second period, with Northern Michigan's shots on Penn State goaltender PJ Musico on the left and Penn State's shots on netminders Mathias Dahlstrom and Michael Doan, who replaced the Wildcat starter a few minutes into the period, on the right.
In the second, Penn State had 44 shot attempts, most of which seem to be clustered in front of the Northern Michigan cage, with attempts fanning out through the zone as they get closer and closer to the blue line. Of those 44 shots attempted, six were blocked by defensemen, most of which seem to extend past the circles, and 14 missed the cage completely from points all over the offensive zone. Three of their shot attempts made it into the net, all between the face-off dots and the red line.
Compare that to Northern Michigan, who had 13 shot attempts with one defensive block and three misses, put one goal in on Musico.
There's a lot to be said about possession, but Penn State's style of play seems to be focused on shooting the puck from almost anywhere on the ice between the face-off dots -- with more misses from the corners and more blocks near the blue line -- regardless of the situation.
What does it all mean?
Where does this put Penn State then, with a lower shooting percentage than their opponents but the highest shot count in the NCAA and the biggest shots per game average?
Well, looking at their 12-7-4 record, with four more victories on the season than all of last year, their situation isn't dire in the least. Yes, the Nittany Lions aren't getting the highest quality of shots compared to their opponents, but their struggles this season haven't been related to their shooting statistics.
Plus, head coach Guy Gadowsky and the players don't see a problem with their tendencies to shoot the puck.
"We have guys that like to shoot the puck," Gadowsky said Tuesday after an optional practice. "I’m happy we’re doing it. As I said, we have guys that like to shoot the puck and they seem to be getting results and we’re not going to frown upon it."
Attaining offense was a struggle for Gadowsky and the team in their early years as a program and were often told it would take awhile before any sort of production came to fruition. Now, with one of the top offenses in the country, Gadowsky said it's "funny" that questions of legitimacy are popping up with their recent success.
"It’s sort of funny that we were getting questioned how we’re ever going to achieve offense and now that we do, people are questioning how we do it," he said. "That’s fine, we like the way we play. I think it’s fun to watch and we’re very fine with the fact that we have guys that like to shoot the puck."
"It’s something that we just take pride in," senior Tommy Olczyk said. "A lot of good things happen when you get pucks to the net. Either a goal, an offensive zone faceoff, a rebound, anytime you get pucks behind the defensemen and cause the other team to turn. You see what it does for us.
"It's something that leads to us having success and there’s no reason to change it."
However, Gadowsky and the squad don't see themselves as a possession team and would rather take the shot over running cycles that take up minutes in the offensive zone.
"You’re not going to score unless you shoot the puck, so I feel like the more shots the better," freshman Scott Conway said. "I could care less if we had two minutes in the zone and had 40 shots on net. As long as we get the puck on net, you never know what’s going to happen."