MHKY: Notre Dame Preview
After not losing in 11 straight games, Penn State has not won in its last five including a disappointing weekend against Wisconsin. The Nittany Lions are currently tied for fourth in the Big Ten with Michigan, but they need to step up their game if they want to return to the NCAA Tournament.
The turnaround starts this upcoming weekend against the top team in the conference in Notre Dame, who has just dominated this season. In 16 conference games, the Fighting Irish have only lost two games and have no ties.
The defensive dominance for Notre Dame has been the key, as goaltender Cale Morris has lost only three games this season and has recorded a .952 save percentage. His presence in the net makes it hard for opposing teams to get good shots off against him.
Offense for Penn State has not been an issue as eight different players on the roster have recorded at least 15 points and lead the nation in goals scored with 104. Denis Smirnov, Andrew Sturtz and Nate Sucese are the team’s top goal scorers and they need to get to the puck moving in front of net to give themselves chances.
The Nittany Lions’ offense needs to be on point as Notre Dame are third in the nation in goals allowed per game with 1.96 and have shutout five opponents, including 1-0 over the Nittany Lions in South Bend earlier in the season. The play of Nikita Pavlychev will be huge as his 6’7 frame allows for him to bang his body with a physical Fighting Irish team.
The problem for the Nittany Lions all season has been the defense, which has allowed 88 goals, including 57 in conference play. Injuries to Kevin Kerr has been a part of that as head coach Guy Gadowsky has had to shuffle his defensive lines throughout the season. The lack of continuity on the lines has allowed for mental lapses as the Nittany Lions have 20 goals in their last five games.
Cole Hults and Kris Myllari will have to step up their game as both players have struggled with consistency on the defensive end over the past couple of games. The mistakes made by the Penn State defenders exposes Peyton Jones in goal as he cannot stop all the shots that come his way.
The home crowd should provide a major spark for the Nittany Lions as the environment inside of Pegula Ice Arena is always electric for a home game. While Penn State lost its last home game against Ohio State, the Nittany Lions had not lost a game in regulation at Pegula since Nov. 3 and they need to get a victory against the second-ranked Fighting Irish.
Notre Dame is playing at an elite level in conference play as opponents have only scored 24 goals in 16 games. The play of Penn State’s defense will be the deciding factor on how the series will unfold. The Nittany Lions’ offense will let them win a game in the series, but the defensive inconsistencies mean Notre Dame will sneak a win in the finale.
Joseph Esquivel-Murphy is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism and Spanish. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.