Despite splits with both Michigan State and Ohio State, the Nittany Lions' power play has excelled after sluggish performances at the start of the season. Since Penn State's first win on Dec. 3 against Michigan, the Nittany Lions have the best power-play percentage in the nation (.348%). They have scored eight power-play goals on 23 attempts. Last season, the power play finished fourth. While last year's unit was great, this year's seems to be even better now that it has found its groove.
One big observation is that players are moving more in the offensive zone, which is what most teams are leaning towards in today's game. When you watch an NHL-style power play, you notice that players are mostly stationary in their spots while cycling the puck until they get the look they want. This strategy works well for the professional, high-level snipers, but is much easier to defend at the college level. Instead, constant movement on a power play will confuse the penalty killers and eventually goad them into creating more open ice for better shot lanes and scoring opportunities. Aarne Talvitie's goal against Ohio State is a perfect example of how Penn State is achieving this.
The Ohio State penalty killers are focused on Connor McMenamin who is cutting towards the middle, which causes the Buckeyes to collapse towards him, leaving Talvitie wide open in the slot. While the movement from Talvitie himself was subtle, it was McMenamin's dash in front that made all the difference.
Another key observation is quicker puck movement. Passes are crisper from low-to-high and point-to-point. Alex Limoges leads the Nittany Lions with four power-play goals and has been the recipient of great tic-tac-toe goals like this one.
Early on in the season, the power play struggled to gain traction thanks to a lack of preciseness on its passes. Whether that was more due to the abnormal preseason or still breaking in the very young roster is anyone's guess, but it's clear that the team is much more comfortable now than they were. That comfort level has helped them to create far more dangerous chances with the man advantage.
Penn State will next hit the ice to take on the Spartans once again, this time at home in Pegula Ice Arena. In order to grab a sweep this time around, the team will hope to keep this red-hot power play firing on all cylinders.