Series Preview: Men’s Hockey vs. Notre Dame
Host Andre Magaro, alongside Logan Bourandas, Kyle Cannillo and Jordan Mansberger, get you ready for Penn State’s huge clash with Notre Dame this weekend in South Bend.
A rematch of last season’s Big Ten tournament championship game is set to take place this weekend in South Bend, as the No. 7 Penn State Nittany Lions finish their six-game road trip by visiting the No. 15 Notre Dame Fighting Irish for a weekend set on Friday and Saturday night.
Guy Gadowsky and the Big Ten-leading Nittany Lions have battled their first serious stretch of adversity this season throughout the past couple weeks away from home. After handily beating a sloppy Merrimack side 7-0, Penn State dropped a heartbreaker in overtime to then-No. 15 UMass Lowell 3-2. This was followed by a split against Michigan in Ann Arbor, where Penn State fell 4-1 on Friday before defeating the Wolverines 3-1 on Saturday.
The consistent concern for the Nittany Lions must be the offensive output. Despite scoring seven on Merrimack, which has the fifth-worst defense in the country, a potent Nittany Lions attack has struggled in recent weeks. Penn State is only averaging two goals per game, much worse than its season average of 4.29, which leads the NCAA.
The Nittany Lions have struggled to create many clear chances during five-on-five play the past two weekends but have remained in nearly every game due to the sensational goaltending of Peyton Jones. Jones’ .924 save percentage ranks third in the Big Ten, and his 2.39 goals against average is fourth in the conference.
Jones’ solid play, on top of a Penn State defensive unit that has climbed from 56th to 20th in the NCAA over the past year, has helped keep the Nittany Lions in games where their offense has stalled.
That offense might have a chance to get back on track against a Notre Dame team that has gone six games without a win in regulation or overtime.
The Fighting Irish are in freefall in the polls after getting dominated by non-conference foes No. 10 Bowling Green and No. 5 Boston College in back-to-back weeks. Notre Dame comes into this series fourth in the Big Ten and desperate to get back to its winning ways, which fans have become so accustomed to under head coach Jeff Jackson.
While they are no offensive juggernaut like Penn State, this Fighting Irish team that is usually fine putting through a couple scores per game has really struggled to find the back of the net in recent weeks. However, unlike the Nittany Lions, the Fighting Irish have not had the defensive or goaltending consistency to back up the offense.
Notre Dame has been outscored 20-5 in its past four games. In that time, the defense has had serious issues with turning the puck over, and senior goaltender Cale Morris has been a shell of his former self. Morris has an .890 save percentage, which is the worst in the Big Ten. His 3.07 goals against average is second-worst in the conference for any goaltender that has played more than 10 games. Compare these numbers to Morris’ career save percentage of .932 and goals-against average of 2.21, and it’s clear to see that he is having his worst season for the Fighting Irish.
The stats would seem to suggest Penn State having a clear edge heading into this weekend’s series. However, Compton Family Ice Arena has been a bit of a troublesome location for the Nittany Lions in the past. Penn State is 1-5 in South Bend since Notre Dame joined the Big Ten prior to the 2017-2018 season, including two postseason losses in the conference tournament.
The Nittany Lions will look to change that trend in order to head into the winter break period atop the Big Ten standings, while the Fighting Irish will try to get back on track and salvage their season.
Prediction: 1-1 split
Game 1: Notre Dame 3, Penn State 1
Game 2: Penn State 5, Notre Dame 2
Andre Magaro is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.