Coming off their first sweep of the season last weekend, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish hockey team begins Big Ten conference play with a trip State College and the Penn State Nittany Lions. Penn State enters the weekend with a 5-2 record and ranked #17 while Notre Dame has fallen out of the top 20 rankings but has received some votes. The Irish have a 4-3 record but are coming off a series sweep and looking to start a run to get back in the national picture.
Where, When, How to Watch
- Where: Pegula Ice Arena, State College, PA
- When: Saturday, November 4, 7:30pm ET; Sunday, November 5, 4:30pm ET
- How to Watch: Both games are streaming on B1G+ with Sunday also broadcast on Big Ten Network
Notre Dame started their season splitting their first two series and losing a single game against RIT. The Irish had a string of one good game and one bad game per series that stretches back to last season, until last weekend that is when they swept Mercyhurst with nine goals over two games, allowing only three on the weekend. Now beginning conference play that strong showing will be important for the team to build on and pad their resume.
The Irish were able to have the strong showing they did last weekend for two main reasons. The first is special teams. While Notre Dame always has a strong penalty kill, and it continues to be very strong this year, the power play has lagged behind in recent memory. Not so much anymore, as the Irish have overcome a slow start to raise their power play percentage to 19.2%. There is still room to improve but they are trending in the right direction. Landon Slaggert has been one of the main catalysts for the offense and power play, with his seven goals early in the year tied for third in the country. The Irish have gotten contributions with goals and assists throughout the lineup though, including from several newcomers.
The second reason Notre Dame played strong last weekend was goaltender Ryan Bischel. A weekend after surrendering five goals in a single period and being pulled from the game, Bischel rebounded to allow only three goals in two games including his first shutout of the season. Even with one big stumble his rate starts are still excellent this year allowing a 2.2 GAA and holding a .928 SV%. Bischel will need to continue his strong play as the games get tougher now.
Penn State, like their recent history, is building a strong season on their offense. They are scoring over 3.5 goals per game and are outshooting their opponents by almost 2:1. Where Notre Dame can try to capitalize is again on special teams. If the Irish power play can continue is upward trajectory the Nittany Lions are killing under 80% of their penalties taken.
Despite the statistics these two teams are very evenly matched with the Penn State offense against the Notre Dame defense/goaltending one of the big matchups every year. Last season they split the four games they faced each other with two series splits. All time though Notre Dame has a big advantage with a 22-9-4 record including a 9-4-3 record at Penn State.
Penn State is a strong team and a road series is never easy, but Notre Dame is a strong team as well and is finding a stride just in time to begin conference play. Considering the opponent and the venue a split series would be a good outcome for Notre Dame this weekend and seems the most likely result.