Penn State took game one of the their road series against Minnesota on Friday night by a 4-2 score. Full game recap is here.
Here were my notes tonight’s game:
-The bookends of this game were very good for Minnesota. I thought they had a very good first period, and were strong late in the game when they were pressing hard to come back. But in the middle stages of the game, the game was a lot more wide open and Penn State’s advantage in terms of skill and strength really started to show.
-Playing against a team known for shooting from anywhere and everywhere, Minnesota seemed to take the opposite approach tonight. Despite winning the shots on goal battle 32-31, the bigger story seemed to be the shots that Minnesota didn’t take. Two of Minnesota’s best offensive looks in the game came early in the first period, once with Brent Gates Jr. in the slot, and once with Tommy Novak on a 2-on-1. Both tried to make the extra pass and failed to generate a shot on goal. They seemed to get less picky as the game progressed, but an inability to take advantage of some of those situations really hurt against a very good Penn State.
-The Penn State offense didn’t have its’ usual explosiveness since they were missing two of their best forwards in Evan Barratt and Aarnie Talvitie, who will be facing off against each other for a gold medal tomorrow night at the World Juniors. I really liked the play of winger Brandon Biro though. Biro is a small, shifty forward that does a great job of using his speed and agility to come off the wing and work his way into the middle of the ice to get good shooting position. He generated a couple nice shots that way and was rewarded with a pretty goal that got Penn State on the board in the second period.
-Tonight was the first game of eligibility for Penn State defenseman Evan Bell, who transferred to the Nittany Lions from Merrimack last year. In pre-game warm-ups, his teammates let him take an honorary first lap around the ice before joining him. It looks like he’ll be a key player for Penn State down the stretch. He was paired with minute-eater Kevin Kerr and saw time with the top power play unit. He’s a solid offensive-minded defenseman with a little physical presence as well. He fit in nicely tonight.
-Structurally-speaking, Penn State is about as aggressive as any team I’ve seen at playing man-to-man defense in the defensive zone. The Nittany Lions seemingly never switch on anything. One would assume that would be exploitable—and their defense numbers suggest that—but Minnesota was never really able to take advantage of that five-on-five. One of their best opportunities came in the second period when Tyler Sheehy skated the puck out to the top of the point and was able to get an angle on his defender, which led to a clear shot from the slot.
-Have to feel bad once again for Mat Robson who probably deserved better than three goals allowed on 30 shots and a loss on a night that I thought he played really well. He stopped three breakaways, including two on the same Minnesota power play in the third period to give his team a shot at tying the game, but he didn’t have the offensive support. He definitely deserves a lot of NHL free agent interest this summer.
-Minnesota’s Jack Ramsey had gone scoreless in his first 17 games this season before finally getting on the board with a pretty shot in the third period tonight.
-There was some controversy—at least in the fans’ eyes—regarding Penn State knocking the net off its’ moorings to stop play in the defensive zone. The most egregious came in the second period on a Minnesota rush down the ice. Minnesota got an initial shot off before a backchecking Nittany Lion took a half-hearted swat at the puck in the air before taking a pratfall into the goalpost. That one was bad, though it’s pretty rare to see an official call the first one like that.
The rest were goalie Peyton Jones kicking off the notoriously finicky goal pegs at Mariucci. The one that seemed to make people most upset came during a one-timer attempt that would have been a goal anyway had the shot not been three feet wide of the net. He probably did Minnesota a favor stopping the play there rather than letting Penn State retrieve the puck.