Series Preview: Arizona State
Jon Gross, Eric Ohlson and Josh Starr break down this weekend's series out west between Penn State and Arizona State.
To say Penn State has been inconsistent is an understatement, as the Nittany Lions have split every series this season except for its series against Notre Dame. Unfortunately, they got swept in both games and got shut out last game.
Defense has been the main issue for Penn State with the absence of Kevin Kerr, as opponents have been able to get open shots in the slot and put goaltender Peyton Jones in trouble. Jones has also been wildly inconsistent as he was capable of shutting down a Notre Dame offense to one goal in the second game, but he also allowed a goal from the neutral zone.
All goaltenders at every level should make those saves and that little slipup makes it hard for the Penn State offense to score enough goals to win. The loss of Denis Smirnov has put additional pressure on an offense that has struggled at times to score goals.
The loss of Smirnov has elevated the play of Nikita Pavlychev, who had scored a goal in four straight games until the final game of the series against Notre Dame. His large frame in front of the net blocks the vision of opposing goaltenders and knows where to place his stick in order to get the desired finish.
Defender Cole Hults has also improved on the offensive end of the ice as his nine assists pace the Penn State attack. His ability to pass the puck will be beneficial against an Arizona State team that has struggled to defend the net.
In eight games this season, the Sun Devils have allowed 32 goals and that number is too high for a team that wants to compete against the top competitors. Joey Daccord has done a decent job in net, but he simply cannot handle the sheer amount of shots that has come his way.
The team is evenly distributed in goals, but the fact that two goals is the team high is nothing to fall in love with. Arizona State’s lack of a go-to goal scorer will prove to be problematic this series as Penn State’s Andrew Sturtz is the talisman for the Nittany Lions.
The program’s all-time leader in goals, Sturtz has an ability to score late in games and he will need provide that as sell this weekend. The senior leadership of James Robinson is vital as Penn State is a young team and he needs to play like he did against Michigan. He scored a hat trick in the final game of the series.
The power play is the x-factor for both teams as they struggle to put the puck in the net when given the man advantage. The Sun Devils have only scored five times when on the power play, while the Nittany Lions have nine goals. Whichever team can take advantage of the power play will have the advantage in the series.
If Arizona State is able to score goals on the power play, it might have a chance of getting win over the weekend. The Nittany Lions are too talented for the Sun Devils and should cruise to a weekend sweep to even up their record.
Joseph Esquivel-Murphy is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism and Spanish. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.