Series Grades: Penn State vs. Notre Dame
Penn State had a tall task over the weekend with Notre Dame, the No. 2 team in the nation and the top team in the Big Ten, coming to town. Despite playing well enough overall to compete in both games, the Nittany Lions couldn’t pull off a win either night and remain behind the eight ball in the Big Ten standings.
Penn State looked good overall on the offensive end of the ice against the Fighting Irish. The Nittany Lions were able to hold the puck in Notre Dame’s defensive zone for extended periods of time, and they peppered Notre Dame netminder Cale Morris with tons of shots in both games. Penn State’s 51 shots on Friday and 57 shots on Saturday marked its fourth and fifth contests this season with upwards of 50 shots.
But when it mattered, the execution wasn’t there. With the game tied at two and just over 1:30 left in overtime on Saturday, Andrew Sturtz was taken down from behind on a breakaway, but he couldn’t get past Morris on the penalty shot. In the ensuing shootout, Denis Smirnov, Liam Folkes and Sturtz again couldn’t find the back of the net before Notre Dame’s Jordan Gross broke through in the third round of the shootout to give the Fighting Irish the extra point.
Great teams know how to step on their opponents’ neck right out of the gate and never let them back up. That’s the opposite of what Penn State did this weekend. After getting out to a two-goal lead in the first period on Friday, Penn State allowed Notre Dame to pull even with them before the second period was halfway over, then gave up three goals to the Fighting Irish in the final 22:47 of the game.
The defense was much improved on Saturday, but there were still some issues. Several times, Notre Dame was able to hold the puck in Penn State’s zone for insane lengths of time, putting far too much pressure on Peyton Jones and not giving the offense a chance to work.
Of the five goals, Peyton Jones surrendered on Friday night, at least two were very questionable. One was from a wide angle on the left that went straight through his five-hole. On the other, Bo Brauer’s score, Jones was simply way out of position, leaving the net wide open for the Fighting Irish forward.
On Saturday, a Jones mistake would end up being decisive in the game. Just 6:38 into the first period, Jones failed to squeeze a shot right at his glove, resulting in a lazy rebound right in front of the net. Cal Burke swept through in front to finish off the score.
Though he also made several spectacular saves on the penalty kill, if Jones doesn’t drop that glove save, Penn State would have broken its now seven-game winless streak on Saturday.
The No. 17 team in the country managed to play two very competitive games against the No. 2 team in the country. That’s nothing to thumb your nose at, and Guy Gadowsky and the rest of his coaching staff deserve some credit. But just like last week, when Penn State lost two third period leads at Wisconsin, the Nittany Lions gave away these two games against Notre Dame.
Gadowsky’s squad got up two goals early on Friday night, before surrendering a barrage of scores that led to the 5-3 loss. Then Saturday, Penn State was down early before coming back to tie it up in the third. The Nittany Lions finally held the advantage when Sturtz had the penalty shot in overtime, but he couldn’t convert. Penn State was also unable to convert on any of its four power-play chances on the weekend.
In close games like these, it almost always comes down to coaching, and Gadowsky & Co. were unable to pull it off.
Tyler Olson is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism and political science. To contact him, email email@example.com.