Column: Power Play Improving, But Not There Yet

Story posted November 8, 2013 in Sports, CommRadio by Ross Insana

Toss it over to the other side of the Nittany Lions special teams coin for a little bit. Yes, I know, nobody has really realized what has been going on there because the key storyline so far has still been the team’s inability to stay out of the penalty box.

Penn State has been plagued by penalty after penalty, undisciplined play and four game misconducts in the first six games of the season, with three of them coming in the last three games. But what has been going with the power play?

Believe me, it’s tough not fixate yourself on the fact that the Lions are now the second most penalized team in the country behind Michigan Tech with 22.33 penalty minutes per game.

But heading into last Friday’s road game against Robert Morris, the Lions were a lowly 2-for-20 with a man advantage. Their only power play goals came against Air Force on October 18th off the stick of Luke Juha and then in their 3-3 tie to RIT when David Goodwin joined the club.

In Penn State’s 5-4 win against Robert Morris last Friday night, the power play units broke out and went 3-for-7 with goals from Casey Bailey, Mike Williamson and Luke Juha, who scored his second power play goal of the season.

“I feel like our intensity was a little bit better on Friday and we just have to keep that up,” said Juha, who was a staple on the point for the Nittany Lions first power play unit.

Albeit a small sample size, the power play was clicking at 42.8 percent after scoring on three of seven opportunities against Robert Morris. That performance boosted the power play up to a fairly respectable 18.5 percent conversation rate that is right around the average in Division I hockey.

“It’s nice to finally get a couple bounces going our way and I think we just continue to work at it and learn what works and what doesn’t work,” said forward Taylor Holstrom.

At least Penn State doesn’t have a power play as dismal as Harvard’s, a team that is 0-for-15 on the power play so far this season.

Now what I did not understand was the fact that Guy Gadowsky was NOT thrilled with his team’s performance on the power play. Despite a much better overall effort when it comes to cold hard numbers and production, he still was not satisfied.

“We’ve had a lot better overall power play games when we haven’t scored than when we happened to get three,” said Gadowsky. “The best we did on the power play was probably in the first period when we did not score but we moved it around very well and had some chances.”

The thing is, the power play is not exactly where he wants it to be at this point in time. Mainly because he feels as if it can be better not only from the production standpoint, but the idea of just generating chances and simply being crisper.

Gadowsky called it the “law of averages”. Power plays are all about being opportunistic and creating chances. Sometimes you get the bounces that go your way and sometimes you do not. Really, all it takes sometimes is one measly shot or something to swing your way.

You could have three goals like the Lions did last Friday, but on what Gadowsky referred to as “one broken play” on Eric Scheid’s goal and then shots from the point right off of faceoffs from Juha and Williamson that found their way to the back of the net.

Three-for-seven with a man advantage and a 5-4 victory to boot doesn’t seem all that bad to me. I sure would be pleased with that performance, but I guess that is why he is the head coach and I’m not.

Ultimately, the power play units’ simple goal is to get as many contested opportunities at the net as they can, while creating and retaining momentum so they can keep that energy going even at full strength.

Gadowsky stresses having better movement on the power play and consistency with it. From the player standpoint, it is a shot-first mentality where if a lane opens up, it is engrained in their head to maneuver pucks to the net.

“Our forwards do a great job of going in front of the net and making it hard on the goalie, whenever I get the puck I’m either looking shot or pass but first shot,” said Juha.

Juha, who has developed into a staple on the power play point, even mentioned that the key to a good power play for them is to be crisper on their entrances into the offensive zone and setting up. That could be one reason why they necessarily have not been consistent

“It means everything,” said Juha.  “If you’re not clean off the draw and into the zone, their throwing it 200 feet and you’re going back down and getting it again. Being able to control it is huge as far as getting opportunities and then attacking from there.”

The importance of special teams cannot go overlooked at any level of play. A lot of times, a good power play helps set a team apart from another and gives them that sort of edge knowing that they always have that ability to click with a man down. Power play chances are precious in the sport of hockey.

A lot of coaches stress special teams work in practices because in tight-knit games, it is what decides the outcome or can help swing a game one way or another to build momentum.

Hypothetically speaking, say one team takes a careless and stupid penalty and the other gets a power play opportunity in a tie game in the second period. From there the team that has the man advantage steers five or six contested shots at the opposing goalie early on in the power play and then buries home its next shot to go up 2-1. That could be the game right there because the momentum shifts in hockey can be some of the most crucial in any sport.

Even Robert Morris coach Derek Schooley said in a postgame radio interview that he was not pleased with his team being in the penalty box too much for his liking as well as the team’s efforts down a man; something the Lions know all too well.

That means Schooley did not like the fact that his team found themselves in a hole way too many times, which gave the Lions ample scoring opportunities. He went out of his way to state that the Lions were able to capitalize on his team’s carelessness. That is saying something about the Lions efforts. But yet, Gadowsky still was not pleased even with the output.

Gadowsky said the only thing he wants to see out of his team would be a “complete game”. Where penalty kill, even strength play, goaltending and, yes, the power play, are all clicking, or as most coaches like to say, playing a full 60 minutes.  Signs are pointing in that direction, especially now that the power play has poked through the surface.

Ross Insana is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email rxi5007@psu.edu.