Already leading 1-0 after a period on the first of two Max McCormick goals, the Buckeyes added another just after Matt Johnson stepped out of the penalty box and scored 26 seconds after that on a McCormick power-play marker before Ryan Dzingel scored shorthanded to carry a 4-0 lead into the third period.
"We played pretty well until then," Penn State coach Guy Gadowsky said. "Obviously we gave up a goal on bad defensive zone play in the first but after that I thought we played fairly well. Then that sequence took us out of it."
The scoring outburst was more than enough for freshman goalie Christian Frey, who stopped 46 of 47 shots and held a shutout until 3:55 into the third when David Goodwin scored on the power play.
But it was too late for the Nittany Lions (4-16-1, 0-7-0-0 Big Ten), who are in their second season at the varsity level and experiencing growing pains.
Ohio State (13-9-1, 3-5-1-0) has won two straight after a four-game winless streak.
"I don't know if we played 60 minutes," OSU coach Steve Rohlik said. "I told the team after the game it looks good, a 5-1 win, but you also got to turn around and look that we gave up 47 shots. Our guys gave a great effort. We just need to tighten a few things up."
Dzingel completed the scoring in strange fashion when Gadowsky pulled goalie Eamon McAdam for an extra attacker while the teams skated 4-on-4 even though there were 12 minutes left in regulation time.
The move backfired when Dzingel collected an errant PSU pass off the sidewall and skated to the goalmouth before depositing his team-best 16th goal at 8:29 to the delight of the 6,856 fans.
Frey continues to play well since enrolling in December to fill the void when sophomore goalie Collin Olson left the team a month earlier. Frey, the Big Ten's second star last week after posting a win at No. 9 Wisconsin, improved to 4-1-0 and has stopped 82 of 84 shots in the past two games.
"It's weird coming to a new team halfway through the year but like Rohlik said, the guys have been great to me," Frey said. "I feel like it's been a smooth transition."
A freewheeling first period wasn't the ideal game plan for either coach but the Buckeyes took advantage of the open space to crack the score sheet at 9:30 when McCormick netted his eighth of the season with the help of junior Tanner Fritz and third-year defenseman Justin DaSilva.
It was DaSilva's shot straight on from the blue line, through three charging Nittany Lions, that rebounded to Fritz. The quick thinking Fritz whipped a backhander against the grain to McCormick at the lower right circle and he did the rest with a top-shelf shot.
"Sils got the puck through and Fritzy made a great play between the legs to me kind of back door," McCormick said.
There were plenty of chances both ways in the opening 20 minutes with the Nittany Lions aggressively firing 31 shots, 17 of which were on target, but Frey stood his ground on every one of them.
"We have to do a better job of getting traffic in front of him, but he did make some big saves or we didn't finish when he had a chance," Gadowsky said. "They certainly did."
The Buckeyes had 13 shots, including one on the only power play of the first period.
Penn State didn't score on its first man-up try when Johnson was whistled for elbowing early in the second.
After his penalty expired, he raced across the ice toward the bench but a clearing pass by teammate Tyler Lundey was headed for an icing call so Johnson stayed on the ice and got to the puck first.
"He had 18 people yelling at him to go back out there," Rohlik said. "He didn't realize the puck was behind him. If he had realized he probably would have had a breakaway but it ended up working out. So he turned around and reengaged."
Johnson then centered Chad Niddery and circled the net to be in position to put in the rebound for his third goal at 5:31 of the middle period.
As the same time as the goal was scored, Penn State's Patrick Koudys was guilty of holding and the Buckeyes took advantage as McCormick slammed in the rebound off a Dzingel blast for his ninth goal and the 3-0 advantage. Dzingel scored his first goal late in the second with an expert move on a shorthanded breakaway after he was sent free by a pass from Nick Oddo.
The Buckeyes were hamstrung by the absence of three defensemen, necessitating that senior forward Alex Lippincott to move the blueline. Senior Curtis Gedig and sophomore Craig Dalrymple are injured and junior Clark Cristofoli tended to the death of a grandparent.
"For the first time ever playing defense I thought he played great," Rohlik said of Lippincott. "He gave us some minutes. You couldn't ask for more much more in the position we're at."
Matters got worse when freshman defenseman Drew Brevig, who was plus-4 for the game, was injured late.
The Buckeyes and Penn State conclude the series Saturday at 2 p.m. (ET, ESPNews) in Value City Arena and Rohlik said he is unsure if Brevig will be available but that possibly two of the other three defensemen who did not play Friday could suit up.
The game will celebrate the 50th year of the hockey program and the announcement of the All-Buckeye team with more than 40 former players expected to be on hand.
Rohlik might want to inquire if any of the old-time defensemen have any eligibility left – just in case.