After splitting a series at home last weekend against the Wisconsin Badgers, Big Ten play continues this week as the Notre Dame Fighting Irish travel to Happy Valley to take on the no.8/9 Penn State Nittany Lions. As we head into February, every series become crucial in a tight race to the Big Ten Tournament. Penn State is currently tied for first with the Michigan State Spartans after the teams split last weekend.
WHERE, WHEN, AND HOW TO WATCH
Where: Pegula Ice Arena, University Park, PA
When: Friday, Jan. 31, 6:00 PM ET (Game 1), Saturday, Feb. 1, 6:00 PM (Game 2)
Watch: Big Ten Network (Game 1), Big Ten Network Plus (Game 2)
Penn State, at one point considered by many as the favorite to land the first-round bye in the Big Ten Tournament, has not looked as impressive the past couple weekends. After losing to the Spartans in East Lansing on Friday, they were able to pull off the overtime victory on Saturday, which put both teams at 28 points. Notre Dame is currently five points behind with just four weekend series left in the regular season.
Since moving up to Division I for the 2012-13 season, Penn State has developed a reputation of being a team that could score plenty of goals, but lacked the goaltending to get them over the hump. However, things have changed this year, as senior netminder Peyton Jones has had by far the best season of his college career, posting a .923 save percentage and 2.56 goals against average. His improvement is an example of how for the first time since the Big Ten began sponsoring ice hockey in 2013, the goaltending has been solid throughout the entire conference.
The Irish are hoping last weekend’s series split with Wisconsin will springboard them out of an ugly stretch that started shortly after the last time these teams met. Notre Dame’s offense scored a total of nine goals in the series, their most in a series since October. In Saturday’s 5-2 victory, sophomore forward Alex Steeves lead the way with a goal and three assists.
Despite their losing streak to start 2020, the Irish are still very much in the hunt for the top seed in the Big Ten Tournament. A sweep of the Nittany Lions in Happy Valley will put them 1 point out of first, as Michigan State is off this weekend. The Spartans’ next two series are against the Minnesota Golden Gophers and Michigan Wolverines, who are the same two opponents the Irish will have after their upcoming bye week.
It was encouraging to see the Irish finally pick up a win for the first time in 20 days in last weekend’s series finale against Wisconsin. However, Pegula Ice Arena has garnered the reputation of being one of the more raucous environments in college hockey, and the Nittany Lions will look to hang on to their aspirations of a Big Ten regular season championship. Just as they did in South Bend in December, I expect the teams to split this series.