Penn State Hockey: 3 Takeaways from Penn States' Split vs Wisconsin

By Jacob Cheris on December 13, 2021 at 8:00 am
Penn State lines up at center ice at the Pegula Ice Arena
Penn State Athletics

Penn State came away with a narrow split against Wisconsin this past weekend. Despite getting a win on Saturday, Penn State did not play its brand of hockey for a full 60 minutes. This has been a frustrating theme for the Nittany Lions all season, and it almost cost them on Saturday. Here are three takeaways from the series. 

1. Penalty kill struggles

Guy Gadowsky needs to address this immediately. The PK unit is 44th in the nation at 75.6%. The Nittany Lions coughed up four power-play goals in this series. Paul DeNaples took a five-minute major penalty for face masking in Game 1, and Penn State allowed two power-play goals. This was the dagger in the game; Penn State simply could not respond.

Game 2 had the same problem. Kevin Wall had a five-minute major penalty of his own for a hit to the head, and Wisconsin capitalized on a defensive breakdown. I want to go over the first Badger goal in Saturday's contest. 

Tony Granatos' squad plays a 1-3-1. It can be deadly when executed properly, and it is very hard to defend - lots of teams in the NHL use the 1-3-1. There is one word that comes to mind when using this system: options. 

Let me break it down.

Connor MacEachern does the right thing by pressuring the Wisconsin defender, Daniel Laatsch. Once Laatsch saw MacEachern pressuring him, he made a quick decision with the puck by passing it to Mathieu De St. Phalle. At this point, MacEachern was beat, but to no fault of his own.  

Once Christian Berger made the decision to pressure De St. Phalle, and go for the poke check, Carson Bantle parked right in front of Oskar Autio. 

De St. Phalle made a great cross-ice pass to Jack Gorniak who found a wide-open Bantle for an easy goal. I have two main issues on this entire sequence. 

1. Berger should not be going from the goal line to the top of the faceoff circle, acting as a winger. 

2. Once Bantle is exposed, Connor McMenamin does not realize this. He needs to cover him, instead of having his stick out in the middle of the ice. Kenny Johnson took away the shooting lane, but it was not enough to stop Gorniak from making a great play. 

But, give Wisconsin credit. Even though they were last in the Big Ten coming into this series, the Badgers are a quick team with a lot of jump. 

The simple solution to the penalty kill problem is quite simply to stay out of the penalty box. 

2. Oskar Autio was terrific

This was the second series in a row where Gadowsky turned to the senior netminder in back-to-back games. Autio had to make numerous cross-crease saves because of how fast the Badgers were moving the puck. If it was not for his stellar play, this series would have been even uglier for Penn State. 

Autio faced 67 shots on goal and made 59 saves. He looks more comfortable and calm with his movements. This is going to be critical down the stretch where games get even chippier. 

The Espoo, Finland native improves to 8-6-0 on the year. 

3. too many odd-man rushes

Penn State wanted to play aggressive in this series. This was apparent in Saturday's win after Friday's dreadful defeat. As I said, Wisconsin is a team that is fast and has a lot of jump, so they moved the puck up the ice at the speed of light. 

Gap control is a huge factor in 2-on-1s. A defensemen's job is to always take away the passing lane. If you ask any defensemen on Penn State, they always talk about how Gadowsky preaches good gap control.

Wisconsin did not score on any odd-man rushes in this series, but this is something that needs to be cleaned up. 

Penn State comes home to close out 2021 with a series against Maine. Once that series is over, it is Big Ten play for the rest of the year.