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Saturday, May 25, 2024
The Observer

Irish travel to rematch No. 6 Penn State

Another large opportunity awaits Notre Dame hockey this weekend at Pegula Ice Arena. The Fighting Irish (10-11-3, 5-7-2) will make the trek east to finish their season series with the sixth-ranked Nittany Lions (17-6-1, 7-6-1). Notre Dame still occupies fifth place in the Big Ten standings; a tie (shootout win) and shutout loss against No. 2 Minnesota brought the Irish to 17 points in 14 games. Meanwhile, Penn State just played its most competitive series of the season to date. The Nittany Lions took an overtime loss and earned a 4-4 tie (shootout loss) in No. 15 Michigan State’s barn last weekend. Penn State now sits in a three-way tie for second place with Michigan State and Ohio State but has two games in hand on the Spartans. All three teams trail front-running Minnesota by 10 points.

Back to December

Notre Dame’s only Big Ten series of 2022’s final month was a home meeting with Penn State on December 9-10. That series ended in a clean split, and there was no shortage of offense. The Nittany Lions used a stellar third period to take a 5-2 game-one victory, potting a pair of empty-netters. Senior defenseman Paul DeNaples struck for the only two-goal game of his career in the win. Opportunistic as could be, the Irish fired back for a 5-3 triumph in game two. Though Penn State blitzed senior goaltender Ryan Bischel with 50 shots, Notre Dame utilized blocked shots, stretch passes and fancy stickwork from senior defenseman Nick Leivermann to find goals. Eleven different Irish skaters collected at least one point in the closing game. All in all, the Nittany Lions outshot the Irish 89-53, but couldn’t solve Bischel more than three times either night.

No lion’s share in Happy Valley

The Nittany Lions attack with the 9th-best scoring offense in Division I, and everybody gets involved. Just two Penn State players are NHL draft picks, but it hasn’t mattered. In fact, each of their last ten goal-scorers have been different players. Forward Kevin Wall paces the team with 12 goals and 21 points, and his supporting cast is strong. Six other Nittany Lions have scored six-plus goals, and 13 others own at least ten points. To fuel the offense, Penn State makes its money at the face-off dot. Ture Linden and Connor MacEachern are both within the nation’s top 20 for winning percentage. Liam Souliere handles the crease for the Nittany Lions. His record is 15-5-1, backed by a .921 save percentage and a 2.22 goals-against average. 

Defense driving Notre Dame

The Irish may have the 13th-worst scoring offense in America, but don’t tell that to the defensive unit. Notre Dame’s back end has carried the load as of late, yielding under 2.5 goals per game over the last seven contests. The success starts and ends with Ryan Bischel, who was recently named to the Mike Richter Award Watch List. His .924 save percentage checks in at 10th in the nation, while his 730 saves place him at 3rd. Even without captain Nick Leivermann, the Irish defense performed well against Minnesota’s loaded offense last weekend. The Golden Gophers scored five goals or less in a series for just the third time this season. Additionally, Notre Dame held Minnesota’s top forward line — the best line in the Big Ten — without a point in game one.

Special teams similarities

Unlike Minnesota, Penn State falls into Notre Dame’s boat with lackluster special teams play. Both teams are in the bottom half of Division I on the penalty kill, and each are in the bottom third on the power play. The Nittany Lions have taken the 5th-least penalty minutes per game in the nation, but that didn’t make a difference in the December series. Notre Dame went 2-for-3 on the power play and limited Penn State to 1-for-8 when up a skater. Penn State had a solid weekend on the man advantage last weekend, going 3-for-11. On the contrary, Notre Dame registered just two shots on a five-minute power play early on Saturday. 

The puck will drop in Happy Valley at 6:30 p.m. EST on Friday and at 5 p.m. EST on Saturday. Both games will be available on Big Ten Plus and the Notre Dame Radio Network. The Irish are 18-8-3 against the Nittany Lions and have taken 8 of the last 10 meetings.