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Notre Dame Hockey: Penn State Series Preview

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Notre Dame welcomes Penn State to South Bend for a conference series

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The #12/13 Notre Dame Fighting Irish hockey team is coming off of another split series last weekend, and now welcomes the Penn State Nittany Lions to South Bend for a weekend series. Notre Dame remains fourth in the Big Ten conference standings. They cannot move down this weekend and will need a sweep and some help to move up, so chances are they will remain exactly where they are. This is still a big matchup though, as only six regular season games remain after this weekend, with Notre Dame currently sitting right on the cusp of an NCAA Tournament bid, currently sitting 12th in the PairWise rankings.

Where, When, How to Watch

  • Where: Compton Family Ice Arena, Notre Dame, IN
  • When: Friday, January 4, 7:30pm ET (Game 1); Saturday, January 5, 6:00pm ET (Game 2)
  • How to Watch: Streaming on Peacock and Fighting Irish TV (Games 1 & 2)

Notre Dame comes off another split series last weekend against the Minnesota Gophers, losing game one 5-1 and winning game two 3-2. That’s been the story for the most part since Thanksgiving, but they do have one sweep thrown in there, a road series against Penn State. So now that Penn State is coming to South Bend, can Notre Dame repeat the results from early January?

The Irish scored nine goals in that series while allowing six. They’ve stayed about that level for most of the series since, but the problem the last few weeks for Notre Dame has been consistency on defense and in goal. They allowed seven goals last weekend, but five of them came in their loss. Two weeks before they allowed six goals to Ohio State, but four of those came in their loss.

The problem is that there is really not an issue that can be blamed for this trend. Both Matthew Galajda and Ryan Bischel have been in goal for wins and losses and are sporting identical .922 save percentages. The lineup hasn’t changed mid-series either and the penalty kill remains the best in the nation, so it’s neither defensive pairings or an abundance of penalties can be blamed for inconsistency from one night to the next. Granted, we are talking about only a few weeks in a series that spans several months, so it is a small sample size against good teams, but it is still a noticeable trend and one that Notre Dame will need to fix before the one and done formats of the postseason come into play.

Penn State enters this weekend in pretty much the same position they did a few weeks ago. They score a lot of goals (94, 7th in the country) and allow a lot of goals (88, 11th most in the country), so expect to see some offense this weekend. The good news for Notre Dame, and what could again be the difference maker this weekend, is special teams. Penn State is scoring on only 18.9% of their power play chances, while the Irish are killing off 92.9% off penalties taken.

Even more important though is that Notre Dame has scored five shorthanded goals this season while Penn State has allowed three. Those numbers put them tied for fourth and tied for eleventh in the country respectively. Notre Dame has a real chance this weekend to produce some offense even a man down and while the “power kill” strategy can be risky at times, it would certainly seem like this is the matchup to deploy it, allowing Notre Dame to go on the offensive rather than sitting back to kill a penalty.

Prediction

Notre Dame managed to sweep Penn State on the road less than a month ago. Now they are home and neither team has really gone on any run since, either good or bad. They’re in much the same place as they were when they first met, except this time Notre Dame is home. The Irish have some clear advantages, especially on special teams, and their strengths and style of play matchup well against Penn State’s weaknesses. Notre Dame has some tough games coming up and will finish with two of their three remaining series on the road. Another sweep would put them in very good position going into the final stretch of the regular season.