No. 6 Penn State is off to a program best 5-0 start and was one of three teams to receive a first-place vote in the most recent USCHO poll.
Although the Nittany Lions have 29 regular season games yet to play, expectations are high for this team.
On paper, this Penn State team has exceeded the start of the 2016-17 team that won the program’s first-ever Big Ten championship, but it’s still too early in the season to make conclusions about a team.
The 2016 team went 3-1-1 through its first five games, including a series split against then-No. 16 St. Lawrence and a win and tie over then-unranked Notre Dame.
One area on the ice this season that is being constantly praised for Penn State is the depth of its forwards, something the Nittany Lions also experienced in 2016.
The Nittany Lions are currently fourth in the country averaging five goals per game. In the 2016-17 season, the Nittany Lions averaged four goals per game through its first five games which tied them for seventh in the country.
So far this season, Penn State’s depth has been on display as 14 players have scored a goal in the first five games, while 17 players have accumulated at least one point.
Spreading the wealth on the offensive side of the puck is also something the 2016-17 team excelled as in the first five games of the season as 19 players registered at least one point and 11 players found the back of the net.
Four of the top six scorers through five games in 2016 are still on the team this season and are now the experienced veteran leaders on the team.
Players like Nate Sucese, Liam Folkes, Denis Smirnov and Brandon Biro, who lead the current offense for the Nittany Lions, were freshmen on the 2016 team and now bring experience along with the skill they posed as freshman to the ice.
Much like the Nittany Lions forwards, its inexperienced, freshman goalie that started in 2016 is now an experienced junior.
Peyton Jones started the first five games of the season for Penn State in 2016 where he accumulated a save percentage of .916. This season the now-junior is splitting time with senior Chris Funkey.
In Jones’ three starts he has a save percentage of .963, which is fifth in the nation.
One area of the ice where Penn State struggled early in the 2016-17 season was in the faceoff circle. The Nittany Lions ranked 30th out of 54 Division I teams in faceoff percentage, only winning .494 percent of pucks off the draw.
This season, the Nittany Lions have benefitted from the Ludvig Larsson effect and the team has won .639 percent of their draws which ranks first in the country.
The blue line was expected to be an area of weakness for the Nittany Lions this season, but through five games it has been solid.
Penn State has only allowed 1.80 goals per game this season, which ranks ninth in the country and is much improved from the 2016 team.
Through five games in the 2016-17 season, the Nittany Lions allowed 2.60 goals per game which was tied for 18th in the nation.
Penn State has also excelled blocking shots this season leading the country averaging 21 per game, which is much higher than the 15.8 per game the 2016-17 team was averaging through five games.
If the Nittany Lions continue this level of play through the season, Penn State could very well do something special and take the next step.
But there is still a long season ahead for Penn State. The Nittany Lions have yet to enter Big Ten play where the team will be really tested as six of the seven teams in the conference are currently ranked including Penn State.
In the 2016-17 season, after the 3-1-1 start, Penn State won 10 straight games and eventually became the No. 1 team in the country, but then they stumbled down the stretch.
The Nittany Lions limped through the rest of the season before making a miraculous run in the Big Ten Tournament in order to make the programs first ever NCAA Tournament.
These first five games of the season are in no way are indicative of what will be in store for Penn State as the college hockey season is so long and there is so much hockey left to play.
That being said, Penn State has been very impressive to open the season and if it continues, this could very well be the year the program takes the next step.