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Penn State Hockey: Nittany Lions Struggle To Find Net As Michigan State Wins 4-2

by on January 24, 2020 9:40 PM

Patrick Khodorenko scoring three goals for Michigan State en route to a 4-2 victory over Penn State on Friday night just about sums up the Nittany Lions problems.

Certainly there are bad bounces, the Nittany Lions have had their fair share of those. There is good goaltending as well, senior John Lethemon was outstanding in net once again for Michigan State, nearly blanking Penn State for a second time this season if not for a blast by Penn State defenseman Cole Hults and a late tally by Tyler Gratton.

And to top it all off, Michigan State is just good. All of these things are true.

But as Khodeorenko, a longtime staple of Michigan State hockey, scored his third of the night, a different thought comes to mind.

Penn State's best players haven't been showing up consistently enough, or often enough, and it might end up costing the deepest team in the Big Ten a chance at a regular season title.

Past the midway point of the season the Nittany Lions have just one double-figure goal scorer in Sam Sternschein, and while balanced offensive output might limit individual scoring, a whose who of offensive talent hasn't been all that impressive along the way, at least not compared to the enormous output of 2018-19.

Coming into the season the Nittany Lions were a national title contender, bringing back boatloads of goals, an experienced goaltender and one of those deepest four-line rotations in college hockey. In general it would be unfair to say this group absolutely hasn't performed, still in the hunt for a Big Ten title and an NCAA Tournament bid, all of those goals within reasonable striking distance.

But seemingly annual January struggles have Penn State at 2-3-1 over its last six Big Ten games and looking more the part the surprise flop than the cinderella story of their opponents on Friday night.

On the ice Michigan State scored first, eventually extending the lead to 2-0 before Hults' blast from between the circles beat Lethemon high heading into the final period. Penn State dominated most of the middle frame but couldn't find the back of the net more than once over the 20 minutes stretch.

In the third the backbreaker came nearing the midway point of the final period as Penn State struggled to clear the puck from its zone, finally falling prey to an extended offensive shift by Michigan State. At 3-1 the rest was largely a formality and an Aarne Talvitie penalty all but ending any late promises of a comeback.

A lot of things about hockey aren't always fair and that's part of the reason why the season is so long, so bad breaks can be overcome by consistent hockey over a sustained period of play. And like many hockey games a 4-2 final was not entirely indicative of how the Nittany Lions performed.

All the same, playing better doesn't put the puck in the net for you, and for another night out on the ice the Nittany Lions did one but not the other, and when his team needed him to step up, Patrick Khodorenko once again answered the bell.

Both teams play against Saturday evening at 6:00 p.m. with the game airing 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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