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Penn State Hockey: Postseason Chances Taking A Hit As Struggles Continue

by on February 05, 2017 2:00 PM

It has been five games now since the Nittany Lions last won. A tie/loss to Ohio State, a last second defeat to Princeton and a emphatic sweep by Minnesota on Friday and Saturday night have put Penn State behind the eight ball in the Big Ten standings.

With 10 games remaining in the regular season Penn State finds itself eight points behind a two-team tie for first place in the conference. Six of the final 10 games are against Minnesota and Wisconsin, the two teams leading the Nittany Lions in the standings.

So at face value it's a situation that Penn State is happy to be in, deep into the thick of things with an entire month of hockey left to be played. As coach Guy Gadowsky is quick to point out, nobody expected Penn State to be in this situation at the start of the season. Even Gadowsky himself seems occasionally surprised by his team's success. Eleven freshmen, a new goaltender and more questions than answers didn't lend itself to a particularly fruitful 2016-17 campaign.

But then Penn State won and kept on winning and continued to score goals more frequently than nearly any other team in the nation.

Those times seem well behind the Nittany Lions now and those early season wins feel far less relevant.

The result is a team No. 11 in the PairWise, falling fast from the former No. 1 spot and more recently No. 5. The Top 16 teams generally make the postseason, which puts Penn State increasingly close to the edge. With conference tournament champions earning automatic bids, Penn State doesn't want to find itself inside the Top 16 having missed out because of a few conference title upsets, the Nittany Lions' at-large resume quickly losing its shine.

Is it time to hit the panic button? Not quite yet, at least not for the postseason, but Penn State is getting dangerously close to the line where hypothetical situations become increasingly unlikely. Climbing up the PariWise late in the season is hard to do. Falling is easy, and happens fast.

In all likelihood Penn State will have to win its final four at home, a challenge that consists of two games against each Minnesota and Wisconsin. Judging by this past weekend's series against the Gophers that seems like a tall order. Penn State is getting set to face the surging Badgers for the first time this upcoming weekend.

That leaves road meetings with Michigan State and Michigan, neither easy places to win, and the Wolverines celebrating Senior Day as Penn State makes a potentially season-deciding trip to Ann Arbor. The final sequence looks like this to close out the year:

  • @Wisconsin
  • @Wisconsin
  • Minnesota 
  • Minnesota
  • @Michigan State
  • @Michgian State
  • Wisconsin
  • Wisconsin
  • @Michigan
  • @Michigan

In truth it appears that without some help across the Big Ten that Penn State's shot at a conference title, eight points, effectively three games out of first place, is slim. The Nittany Lions now focus on a Top 16 placement in the PairWise and the hope that early season successes are enough to make up for a mid-season struggle.

At 16-6-2 it's hard to say anything bad about the season at large for a fifth year program, but given the start, the once-held No. 1 ranking and the growing optimism around Pegula Ice Arena, it's also seems as if a missed postseason would be a bitter pill for the team and its fans to swallow as March closes in.

Anything can happen, but until the Nittany Lions get back to winning, it won't be a favorable result.



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