About ninety miles away from Detroit, MI where they hope to celebrate in April, the no. 3 Notre Dame Fighting Irish will head to East Lansing to face the 2020 Frozen Four hosts, the Michigan State Spartans. The Irish defeated the Spartans in all six contests last year, including two Big Ten Tournament victories. The matchup will be the third Big Ten road series in four weeks for head coach Jeff Jackson and his team.
Where, When, and How to Watch
Where: Munn Ice Arena, East Lansing, MI
When: Friday, Nov. 21, 7:00 PM ET, Saturday, Nov. 22, 7:00 PM ET
How to Watch: Big Ten Network Plus
The Spartans head into this weekend’s series 5-5-0 and 3-1-0 in Big Ten play. They’ll be riding the high of two big wins over their hated rival, the Michigan Wolverines, last weekend in a home and home series. In Saturday’s series finale, three different Spartans; Josh Nodler, Austin Kamer, and Tommy Apap found the back of the net in a shutout victory.
Senior forward Patrick Khodorenko provided two goals for the Spartans in their first victory over the Wolverines last Thursday. On a unit that ranks fourth in the nation, Khodorenko leads the team with two power play goals. The alternate captain from Walnut Creek, CA is coming off consecutive 30-plus point seasons and with 13 points through 10 games, he should continue that streak this season.
In a start to the season where almost everything has gone right, the power play is one area where Notre Dame hasn’t performed up to expectations. Currently at 20%, the effectiveness of the man advantage is not as strong as Irish fans have grown accustomed to, but this should be expected for a team that lost the likes of Andrew Peeke and Bobby Nardella. This weekend’s matchup will provide a great opportunity for that unit to turn things around. Through ten games, the Michigan State penalty kill sits at 76.09%, which is the lowest in the Big Ten by a sizable margin.
The Irish avoided a sweep at the hands of the Wisconsin Badgers with an impressive comeback last Saturday. Since seeing better defenses at the start of Big Ten play, the Notre Dame offense has shown signs of struggling, as evident by getting shut out in the first game of the series. Cal Burke, team leader in points, has yet to find the back of the net since the start of conference play and in those six games, has only registered two assists. He and the rest of the Irish will face a Michigan State defense that allows 2.70 goals per game, so things won’t get easier.
I might be making the Irish sound like underdogs by pointing out the recent struggles from the offense and the power play unit, but it’s important to note that the comparison has shifted from how this team matches up with the rest of the Big Ten to how this team matches up with the top squads in the nation.
Obviously, when your team is ranked third in both major college hockey polls, there is plenty to be optimistic about. The play of Cale Morris continues to be outstanding, and this week he’ll be challenged by a Spartans offense that is averaging under 3 goals per game. I’m predicting the Irish to sweep the Spartans and the power play to find its groove.