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Penn State Hockey: How Good Are The Nittany Lions? Answer Starts This Weekend Against Michigan

by on November 16, 2018 11:20 AM

To be sure there is little evidence to suggest that the 2018-19 edition of Penn State hockey is anything other than the deepest team the Nittany Lions have fielded to date.

There is scoring from all four lines coming from players you might not expect and from those you would. Everyone is doing something good. Nikita Pavlychev is second in the nation in total points, something you didn't have on your Bingo card. Both goalies have looked good enough to start and a defensive corps that was projected to be a potential weakness has -so far- generally played far better than expected.

"Cautious optimism" is the phrase coach Guy Gadowsky agreed with when asked about how he feels about his team just a few days removed from scoring 11 goals against Robert Morris.

As he is quick to point out, winning masks a lot of things, and Penn State has historically won games it has played poorly in while losing ones in which it has played well. Penn State did give up six in the same game it scored 11 after all.

Hockey always has been a little weird that way.

That's the nice thing about the Big Ten though, it leaves little room for ambiguity. A murderers row of teams that will grind each other to a pulp before offering up two or three battered teams to the field of sixteen. The Big Ten certainly doesn't lack quality, although that might be to its own detriment.

So for all of the early optimism starting on Friday at 7 p.m. and Saturday at the same time, everyone will begin to get an answer to the question of how good Penn State really is. The Nittany Lions already have quality victories over Clarkson, Princeton and (a surprisingly good) Arizona State, but Penn State's out of conference schedule has always been a polite entrance into the Big Ten schedule. That's not to say the No.5 ranking and a 7-1-0 record is somehow not indicative of how good this team is, simply that it's not entirely unexpected.

The next month will be informative though. A home series against Michigan will turn into two straight weekends on the road against Ohio State and Wisconsin. Then Penn State will return home for a pivotal series against de facto team-to-beat Notre Dame. If the Nittany Lions are managing road splits, it stands to reason they will be well positioned heading into that early December meeting against The Irish.

"The bigger tasks are coming right now, at the end of the day I don't think we're satisfied with how we're playing, we're doing some stuff well but we definitely have to clean some stuff up," Captain forward Chase Berger said this week. "But we're not naive we don't think we're the best team in the world right now, we know we still have stuff we need to work on."

But is he curious how good his team is? Berger just smiled, a few days removed from the start of Big Ten play, the start of the real grind.

"I think we've got a good belief in ourselves, we know who we are."

Right now the Nittany Lions are scoring more goals than anyone in the nation, have more wins than all but five teams, get more shots on goal than anyone and have all the confidence in the world.

If that's even remotely the same a month from now, we might have our answer.



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