Midseason Review: Goaltenders and Special Teams

Story posted January 9, 2014 in Sports, CommRadio by Ross Insana

The final part to the midseason review series will take a look at the performance of the three Penn State netminders; Matt Skoff, Eamon McAdam and PJ Musico. In addition, an in-depth evaluation at the power play, penalty kill and overall team wrap-up.

Matt Skoff

Skoff has kept Penn State in games and situations with his play in net, helping to avoid several blow outs. He has received all of the tough assignments since the beginning of last season, when there were signs that he could step up and hold his own against good teams. Last season, Musico grabbed wins against Wisconsin, Michigan State and Ohio State. 

At the beginning of the season, I thought the more talented McAdam would eventually come out on top and nail down the starting role, but the experienced Skoff seems to be Gadowsky’s go-to guy in net.

Eamon McAdam

He was Penn State and Gadowsky’s most heralded recruit so far as a Division I program and there were a lot of expectations for a guy that was taken in the third round of the 2013 NHL Draft. Even though four appearances is a small sample size, McAdam has not really lived up to that draft pick label yet. 

There have been flashes of promise of what McAdam is really capable of, when he gets settled and in a groove. For example, his most notable performance came against then No. 13 ranked UMass Lowell, when he stopped all 31 shots thrown at him, after allowing three goals in the first period.

McAdam even admitted after the game that he got stronger and more poised as the game went on, after having clear rebound control issues early in the game. He seems to be viewed as a “projectable guy” considering his size and athleticism. I do not think we have scratched the surface of what McAdam is capable of doing, because remember he is still a freshman. So I would give him some time.

PJ Musico

His appearances in net have been in mop-up duty in two blowouts; the 7-1 loss on the road against Wisconsin and 8-2 loss to Boston College in the Three Rivers Classic Championship game.

Special Teams

At the beginning of the season, Penn State struggled with discipline and found themselves on the penalty kill more than they definitely would have liked. They were one of the most penalized teams in all of Division I hockey, averaging at least 15 penalty minutes a game. Gadowsky even took the initiative to contact the Big Ten Director of Officiating earlier to look over every one of their penalties because he and his coaching staff, plus the players, needed direction as to what is legal or not. That gave their penalty kill a lot of opportunities to work on their craft and make it the team strong point and the power play as the weakness. 

Guys like Scheid, Olczyk, DeRosa, Koudys and Thompson found themselves as strong workhorses when the Nittany Lions were down a man. Not just those players, but the team as a whole, were using their speed, hard work down low and ability to get in lanes, to lead to consistent penalty kills.

Then came their 5-4 win against Robert Morris on November 1, where their power play went 3-for-7 and started trending upwards. Up until that game, the power play was a lowly 2-for-20 with a man advantage. Their only power play goals came against Air Force on October 18 and versus RIT on October 25

On the other hand, the penalty kill was among the best in the country at 82.8 percent (29-for-35). After the Robert Morris game, Gadowsky stressed that despite the 3-for-7 power play performance, he would like to have more consistency and better movement when his team is up a man. 

In the nine games since then, the power play is 8-for-33 and almost nearly converting every four chances. Because of that stretch, they now sit at 14th in all of college hockey on the power play clicking at 21.67 percent (13-of-60). As mentioned before, this is in large part to the strides Luke Juha has taken quarterbacking the point and getting shots through. Two of his four power play goals on the season have come in that nine game stretch. Eric Scheid has also cashed in on three of those opportunities in that time. They now seem to be creating more opportunities and getting pucks to bounce their way. 

Now back to the penalty kill. While it was among one of the best in the country through the first six games, it has found a way to regress. In that last nine game stretch to close out the fall semester, it was 33-for-43. This is all thanks in large part to the top tier opponents with Union and Boston College that found ways to capitalize on the power play. Six of the 10 power play goals allowed were in the three games against Union and Boston College. Union has one of top five best power plays in the country.  It would be nice to see that PK find its way close to where it was in the first five games of the season to make for a balanced special teams.

Overall Team Evaluation

They Nittany Lions playing against difficult competition, playing seven ranked opponents in their past eight games, and everyone has to realize this still a young and inexperienced program. 

Everyone knew coming in that the new Big Ten conference was not going to be a cakewalk. The team is 4-10-1, but there have been some things to like and not like about them at the almost midway point of the regular season. 

Some of those positives include Luke Juha’s performance on the power play, Patrick Koudys’ defensive prowess and the maturation of the freshmen class. The negatives include the beginning of the season, penalty problems and the fact last season’s top three scorers (Bailey, Glen, Gardiner) only have a combined seven points. 

This team has proven many times that they are able to bounce back after tough losses, adjust and play better in the second game of the series. The schedule does not get much easier. Of their 19 games remaining, 15 of them will be against teams that obtained votes in the most recent USCHO poll. 11 of those games are against teams ranked in the top 13 or higher. Minnesota and Michigan are two of the best teams in the country and the Nittany Lions have EIGHT combined games against the two. 

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