Penn State has become famous — or infamous, depending on fandom — for its goal-scoring prowess. In almost each season since the Nittany Lions became a Division-I program, they’ve ranked at or near the top of the NCAA in goals per game.
For as much as the Nittany Lions find the back of the net, few could have expected or been prepared for what unfolded on Saturday night.
In the second half of a home-and-home with Robert Morris, Guy Gadowsky’s squad set a program record with 11 goals in a single game as the Nittany Lions topped the Colonials in a wild, 11-6 contest.
After such a performance, it would be easy to call this Nittany Lions squad the best in terms of offensive capability. But Gadowsky has been saying that all season, long before the team had its record-setting night.
“I think this is the most impressive offense we’ve had, but we’ve been very consistent,” he said Monday. “We haven’t rode one line for quite some time.”
That last point may be the most important. While particular lines have certainly taken over games, no one line has been forced to carry the burden for each of the team’s first nine games.
The trio of Nate Sucese, Ludvig Larsson and Brandon Biro exploded right from the opening puck drop of the team’s season opener, but have cooled off in recent games.
Evan Barratt, Alex Limoges and Liam Folkes have continued their torrid pace from the end of last season, producing a combined 32 points in nine games.
Perhaps the most surprising of all is the production Gadowsky has gotten from his “shutdown” line anchored by Nikita Pavlychev. The Russian forward is riding an eight-game point streak and, after a seven-point weekend against the Colonials, is tied for the team lead with 16 points.
“We’ve had consistent scoring but obviously not as much,” Gadowsky said. “It’s really nice to see that we’re getting multiple goals from several lines.”
As much as Gadowsky enjoyed his team’s 18-goal weekend, his concern over the team’s defensive weakness after the Colonials found the net six times on Saturday may outweigh his joy.
“When you’re playing really well offensively, sometimes that masks some defensive deficiencies,” he said.
It would be hard to blame the Nittany Lions for sacrificing some defensive responsibility in a wide open contest like Saturday’s. Gadowsky hopes that isn’t the case, however.
“You don’t want to think that because the puck is going in the net that it’s okay that we forget about the other part of the game, the defensive game,” he said. “I hope that it’s just an aberration and that we get back on track.”
Sauvé’s Speed Leads to Success
Heading into the season, Gadowsky was skeptical of the newly-instituted “extra skater” position. The concern was that the 19th player could disrupt a forward line or defense pairing’s synergy.
Gadowsky learned to embrace the position after Adam Pilewicz — capable of playing both forward and defense — was used in the role and performed admirably, scoring his first career goal in an 8-2 win over Niagara.
After suiting up for five games this season, Pilewicz hasn’t played the past two weekends against Arizona State and Robert Morris. In his place, Gadowsky has used the extra skater position in a different manner.
On Saturday against the Colonials, Max Sauvé dressed for his first collegiate game after spending the first few weeks of the season on the shelf with a broken finger. To avoid disrupting any synergy through the lineup, Sauvé was slotted in that extra skater role.
“We wanted to see him play. We got the go-ahead that we could play him, so why not?” Gadowsky said of his decision to insert Sauvé into the lineup. “Turns out it was a pretty good decision.”
Sauvé recorded a goal and an assist in the game. The Acushnet, Mass. native also showcased his most impressive trait to net his first career goal, using his extraordinary speed on the forecheck before netting the Nittany Lions’ eighth goal of the night.
“When you’re a smaller guy like myself, you’ve got to be quick in the corners and up and down the ice,” Sauvé. “I try to use it to the best of my ability.”
Perhaps the only thing faster than Sauvé on the ice was his decision to go to Penn State. While Hockey Valley wasn’t his top choice, picking Penn State — much like the decision to play him on Saturday — was a good one.
“To be honest, I’ve always wanted to be at a Boston school, but Penn State is Penn State. I couldn’t ask for anything better,” Sauvé said. “At the time, I didn’t really have any other options. It came down to the wire. Last month of school last year, and Gadowsky gave me a call, I ended up touring and that was it. It worked out perfect.”
In the ever-changing world of sports, analytics have taken a prominent role in determining both a player and a team’s value. In hockey, it’s possession and shot metrics that matter most when judging a player’s ability nowadays.
While Penn State’s shot metrics rank among the best in the NCAA, Gadowsky is hesitant to board the analytics train.
“I do think knowing the numbers is important but they’re not end-all, be-all by any means,” he said.
Gadowsky’s argument hinges on the numbers varying on a game-by-game basis. A player with the best season-long shot metrics can go cold any given night and vice versa.
“Sometimes those numbers, during the course of the game, you throw out a little bit depending on what’s happening during the game,” he said.
“It’s easy to look at numbers when everybody’s settled and relaxed when the game’s over and analyze them. It’s very difficult in house, while the game’s going on, to judge who’s hot, who’s not, who has synergy.”
While the Nittany Lions are methodical in peppering the opposing goalie with shots and pumping pucks into the net, Gadowsky often trusts his gut more than the numbers.
“I think we’re a little more art than science,” Gadowsky said.