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Penn State Hockey: Five Thoughts As Nittany Lions Swept By Michigan

by on March 11, 2017 10:45 PM

Penn State hockey finds itself in a tough position as the Nittany Lions fell 3-2 and 4-0 in Ann Arbor to lowly Michigan in the final series of the regular season.

Friday, the Nittany Lions lost 3-2 in the kind of game where Penn State likely feels as though it should have won but -as it has before- paid for its own mistakes. 

On Saturday it was a barrage of 46 shots on net that went to show the value of quality over quantity. In addition Penn State will look back on five empty power play opportunities as the continuation of the Nittany Lions' ongoing struggles on special teams. Despite relatively few offensive chances, Michigan made the most of what it got and had four goals to show for it.

How much Penn State regrets an otherwise forgettable weekend in Ann Arbor remains to be seen. The Nittany Lions are 13th in the PairWise with at least one game in the Big Ten tournament to go. A somewhat upset-happy weekend across college hockey has reduced the rankings drop for the Nittany Lions for now, a sliver lining as Penn State heads back to State College.

With the Big Ten Tournament less than a week away, here are five thoughts as Penn State's 21-11-2 regular season comes to a close.

1. The Season Got Harder

It isn't wrong to say Penn State's second half of the season has been underwhelming given the white-hot start, but it would be unfair to suggest nothing changed. In the final 15 games of the year Penn State faced 10 Top-20 teams, including Minnesota four times. The Nittany Lions by in large played well for most of Big Ten play and you could argue Penn State's final loss to Minnesota was the Nittany Lions' best performance of the year.

All told Penn State entered the final game of the regular season at No. 10 in winning percentage on the year. If anything, this season is a good lesson for Penn State fans that this isn't football -- the losses might hurt, but hockey's season is a marathon and not a sprint. Are there games Penn State would like back? For sure, but by and large the results aren't entirely a reflection of the performance. If nothing else a 21-win season is the kind of thing most programs would be happy to average. Only 18 teams currently sit with a season win-percentage above 60 percent.

2. The Little Things

That being said Penn State's power play has to improve. Early in the year the Nittany Lions were good for what felt like at least a goal a game up a man, now the chances are much more of a rarity. Some of that comes down to the opponents, but good teams make the most of those chances. Since January Penn State has been one of the worst on special teams, some bad luck, but not much. If Penn State makes the tournament and wants to go farther than getting through the door, that will have to change. 

3. Kerr

Simply put Penn State misses Kevin Kerr on the defensive end. The fact he's gone isn't why the Nittany Lions are losing, but he makes the entire team better. For as flashy as Denis Smirnov and Andrew Sturtz are, Kerr is equally as reliable on the defensive end. Kris Myllari has been outstanding as a freshman, but Penn State misses Kerr.

4. Just Be Smart

Turnovers aren't a stat that hockey keeps as a regular figure in the box score but miscues have hurt Penn State as much as anything this year. Some of that is how hockey works, bad bounces and bad breaks, but the Nittany Lions are sometimes prone to getting in their own way; be that getting a little too fancy or just not playing as sharp as they can. That happens to any team, but in crunch time it only becomes magnified. 

5. Win And In

Penn State might sneak in without a win, but it's looking like the first round meeting next week is a play-in game for the Nittany Lions. A victory might seal the deal, a loss will undoubtedly make for a tense Selection Sunday. The opponent? Michigan, with an 8 p.m. puck drop in Detroit on the Big Ten Network.



Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for StateCollege.com. He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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