Over the weekend, No. 13 Penn State held its yearly international exhibition game against Ottawa and stomped the Gee-Gees (yes, you read that right) en route to a commanding 5-0 victory, thus confirming that
the United States is better at hockey than Canada the Nittany Lions are ready to kick off what could potentially be a historic season in Hockey Valley.
It's hardly a shock anymore to see Penn State light up the scoreboard, but what's important to note is how many different Lions earned a tick in the goals category on the score sheet. Graduate transfer defenseman Evan Bell netted two goals, and forwards Brandon Biro, Evan Barratt, and Max Sauve each added one of their own.
Biro and Barratt are obvious locks to score approximately one million goals this season, but the breakout performance by Bell and the tally by the sophomore Sauve sparked even more intrigue in the Lions' powerful offense.
In his first media appearance of the season, head coach Guy Gadowsky mentioned that he couldn't remember the last time the Nittany Lions returned so much offensive production and talent from the previous season.
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He isn't wrong. Penn State will be icing eight of its top-10 scorers from 2018-19, which includes that its prolific top line of Alex Limoges, Barratt, and Liam Folkes – a trio that combined for a whopping, NCAA-shattering 135 points in 39 games last season. To add a little perspective on how outrageous that is, consider that 57 of those 135 points came as goals, which outscored both Alaska Anchorage's and Colgate's entire teams. They should, barring any injuries, put on an encore performance and be the best line in college hockey for the second consecutive season.
The only thing that could, once again, keep the Lions from achieving greatness is their less-than-impressive defensive unit. This comes as no surprise, given Gadowsky's system of tipping the ice towards the opponent, forechecking like madmen, and subsequently worrying about defense later.
The top pairing is likely going to be that of Cole Hults and Paul DeNaples. Bell will also finally get to play a full season after coming over via a graduate transfer last year (and may showcase some time on the first pairing if this scoring streak continues). Additionally, Penn State welcomes Penguins' prospect Clayton Phillips, a transfer from Big Ten foe Minnesota, who will hopefully bring an edge to the blue line. With horrid statistics like a 2018-19 Big Ten-worst 3.56 goals against number to rebound from, it surely can't get worse.
Limoges made a point to mention that during a recent press conference.
"It's just kind of, how can we get better?" he said. "What are situations on the ice and where we can run plays to get us out of the defensive zone and into the offensive zone if there's an opening. Just ways to exploit the other team. It's more about the opportunities that we can't have and that we've missed so far."
One bright spot on the defensive end coming into the new season is tag-teamed by the two guys who shared time between the pipes during the Ottawa exhibition. Peyton Jones and Oskar Autio have a huge responsibility this season in net. Both of them managed the mistakes made in front of them in the exhibition, despite having to face 25 shots and three power plays against. A high octane offense complemented by an underperforming defense requires strong goaltending, and as we've seen in the past, if the Nittany Lions have any hope of getting back to the Frozen Four, both netminders will need to be at their best. Jones has had many seasons to develop and prove he is a reliable force in net, and this season, expectations are sky-high for him.
It's safe to say that anything short of a playoff berth would be a disappointment for this team considering all the pieces they have coming back. Tune in for more analysis later on in the week, as we predict how the Nittany Lions' season will pan out in 2019-20.