After sinking Brock 3-2 in its exhibition game last Saturday, the No. 16 Nittany Lions face a tough initial test in their 2018-19 season opener. Penn State will play hosts to a very talented Clarkson team, currently ranked just below the Lions at No. 17. The two-game series begins Thursday night in Pegula Ice Arena at 7 p.m.
We've described the forwards' huge challenge of replacing the scoring prowess of Andrew Sturtz, the responsibility of the blue line to not cave under the pressure of the Big Ten, and the current goaltender battle between Peyton Jones, Chris Funkey, and incoming freshman Oskar Autio. However, in these next two days, the Lions not only have to begin to handle those three major hurdles, they also need to corral Clarkson's undisputed skill and power in the process.
Golden Knights Scouting Report
With many critiques of the easy non-conference schedules Penn State has put together in the past, it's evident those comments were taken to heart. The Golden Knights easily pose as one of the Lions' biggest threats to their season outside of their Big Ten slate. In last year's matchup, Penn State battled hard as the away opponent, but ultimately conceded a 2-1 loss to Clarkson in Potsdam, New York.
Clarkson is also a stout foe simply for their success in 2017-18. The Golden Knights finished 23-11-6 and third in the ECAC conference – including an NCAA Tournament berth (which they dropped to Princeton). They also return 17 lettermen from that top-10 team and will likely be in the hunt for consecutive tourney berths.
One of the key players for the Knights is junior captain Devin Bosseau. Bosseau (11 goals and 22 assists last year) is feeling the pressure early, especially with his former line mate and last year's leading scorer on the team, Sheldon Rempal, gone to the Los Angeles Kings' AHL affiliate. Bosseau spent most of his time in the attacking zone setting up Rempal, so it'll be interesting to see if he finds a new scoring partner, or if he decides to take it upon himself to fill Rempal's massive shoes.
The Golden Knights also bring back Nico Sturm (14 goals, 23 assists), Jack Jacome (eight goals, 21 assists), Haralds Egle (five goals, 11 assists) and Kevin Charyszyn (seven goals, eight assists), as well as some talented newcomers who were productive offensively at the junior level.
The Golden Knights don't seem to be littered with many offensive-minded blue liners since top guys Kelly Summers (drafted by the Ottawa Senators) and Terrance Amorosa (picked up by the Philadelphia Flyers) are both gone. That duo garnered huge chunks of ice time, points, and blocked shots, and replacing those numbers and that level of production each week won't be easy. Clarkson basically has the same issue Penn State does in the back end, and it will experience a tough transition period to see who can step up in the holes left behind.
That being said, the two d-men to look out for are sophomore Kevin Charyszyn, who collected 15 points (seven goals, eight assists), and senior Aaron Throw, who had 11 points (two goals, and nine assists) last season. They'll definitely be on a mission to swell this year's stats more in Summers's and Amorosa's absence.
Based on last season's stats, junior Jake Kielly is the guy I'd bet is getting the nod in goal. He boasted a 22-10-6 record and a pretty admirable .929 save percentage. Kielly also gave up less than two goals per contest, a brilliant 1.82 goals against average, against a powerful ECAC conference. That doesn't bode well for Penn State.
Keys To a Penn State Win
The Nittany Lions will have to make up for the offense lost by Denis Smirnov, who's sidelined and considered out indefinitely as he recovers from a concussion. If the forwards can pepper Kielly all night and constantly create chances in the offensive zone – in typical Penn State fashion, of course – eventually the flood gates will open.
Kaitlyn: I figure with Penn State and Clarkson possessing two weakened defenses due to player departures, we'll end up with a track meet-style game that doesn't feature much play away from the puck. The Lions might have the edge in offensive firepower, but Clarkson has a handful of playmaking guys who can easily set something pretty up whenever needed.
I'm calling for a split, as two evenly matched (and two evenly ranked) teams will have to exploit the things that don't require shooting the puck on net: goaltending, blue line effort, gap control, neutral zone domination, etc. The Golden Knights have a more reliable goalie, and that's where I think the Lions will fail. Game 1: 4-3, Penn State. Game 2: 3-1, Clarkson.
Sam: Predicting games before anyone has played is tough, and Clarkson is a team that has been both surprisingly good and surprisingly bad over the last few years. That being said, Penn State’s offense will be able to score against everyone this season, and I see the puck being on the offensive end for a large majority of the series. Penn State wins both Game 1: 4-2 and Game 2: 5-4.