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Zwiller: Predictions No.14 Irish set to play No.1 Michigan in Ann Arbor

| Tuesday, November 16, 2021

After falling short in back-to-back conference games against Minnesota, Notre Dame needed a statement win against Wisconsin to keep from falling behind in the Big Ten standings. 

And after sweeping the Badgers, the Irish got their statement win.

The then 6-3 Irish hosted the 4-5 Badgers at Compton Family Ice Arena, with just over 4,330 people in attendance. The Badgers struck first in the series despite being on the road, with Forward Roman Ahcan scoring a power-play goal on an Irish roughing penalty. 

It would be the first and last goal the Badgers would score at Compton. 

Less than three minutes into the second period Landon Slaggert socred the equalizer, followed by Jesse Landsell shortly after that. Notre Dame Forward Trevor Janicke ended the period by converting on a Wisconsin penalty to give the Irish the 3-1 lead. 

In the third period, Max Ellis put the game on ice, scoring twice, once on a power-play and an empty netter.

In the second game, the Irish scored two goals in the first period, one on a power play by Grant Silianoff and one by Nick Leivermann (4-on-4). The last goal of the game came late in the second, scored by Hunter Strand.

After their series against the Badgers, the Irish improved to 2-2-0 in conference play and 8-3-0 overall. That record is good enough for fourth place in the conference. 

Ahead of Notre Dame is Michigan (10-2-0, 5-1-0), Minnesota (7-5-0, 4-1-1), and Ohio State (7-3-0, 4-2-0). Behind the Irish are the Badgers (4-8-0, 1-4-1), Michigan State (6-5-1, 1-3-0), and Penn State (6-5-0, 0-4-0). 

In their next series, the Irish will have another chance to build momentum and gain ground in the conference standings. Their opponent? The No. 1 Michigan Wolverines.

Michigan has certainly earned their number one ranking without question, as they boast an NCAA best record of 10-2-0. The Wolverines boast a high-scoring offense; they have scored 52 goals through 12 games, averaging 4.33 goals per game. That is also the highest such mark in the NCAA this season. Unfortunately for the Irish, Michigan is also stout defensively. Allowing 26 goals through 12 games, the 2.17 GAPG ranks the Wolverines 12th in college hockey. 

One advantage I expect the Irish to have in this weekend’s upcoming series is in faceoffs. The Irish are a top-10 faceoff team going 346-292, or about .542. Michigan is not horrible on faceoffs, but they have only won .511% of their attempts (382-366).

A vital area, as it is in most games, is penalties. The Irish are an incredibly sound defensive team, while Michigan is looking to be an offensive force. Both statements hold for the Irish penalty kill and the Michigan power-play. The matchup will essentially be an unstoppable force meeting an unmovable object.

The Irish lead the nation in penalty kill percentage. Of the 43 penalties the Irish have taken that have allowed power play opportunities, they have only allowed two power-play goals (.953). The power-play unit is without question going to be challenged this weekend as Michigan has one of the best attacks in the country. The Wolverines have had 48 power-play opportunities, and they have converted 15 times (ranks sixth). That power-play percentage ends up being .312, a figure that is third-best in the country. 

On the flip side, Michigan’s penalty-kicking unit is not nearly as good as their power-play unit. The Wolverines have killed off 41 of their 49 penalties (or about .837), making them the 21st best unit in the nation. Fortunately for the Wolverines, the Fighting Irish have an abysmal power-play attack. Of the 40 power-play opportunities the Irish have had, they have only converted six times. At .150%, that makes Notre Dame 41st in the NCAA. Yikes. 

Another reason I want to focus on penalties is that Michigan averages the 10th most penalty minutes per game. It is much closer to eighth if you consider that Brown and Yale have combined for 177 penalty minutes in only seven games.

Despite their lackluster power-play, the Irish need to score when Michigan gives them the opportunity. If the Irish can stay out of the box (which they are capable of doing, they are 30th in penalty minutes per game) and take advantage of the frequent Michigan penalties, Notre Dame can win this series.

Well, let me put a caveat on that. Notre Dame can win this series if it is low-scoring. ND has a top-5 defense in terms of goals against, allowing only 1.73 per game. However, they average 3.67 goals per game, which is 11th in the country but is behind Michigan’s 4.33 goals per game. Lucky for the Irish, Michigan also allows 2.17 goals per game which means that ND can score against Michigan; I do not think they can win a shootout.

Historically, Michigan owns the series, leading 83-63-5. But if I had to pick this one, I would say that Notre Dame can get the split on the road. In the last four series played between the two rivals, the home team is 0-8 with a goal differential of 24-7 (-17 at home!). I think there is a difference with Michigan being the best team in college hockey, but the No. 14 Irish should at the very least steal a win on the road.

Game 1: Notre Dame 3 Michigan 4

Game 2: Notre Dame 3 Michigan 2

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About Thomas Zwiller

Thomas is a sophomore currently in attendance at Holy Cross College, and is a Business major and Computer Science minor. He is from Saint Joseph MI, and went to high school at Saint Joseph High School SB, playing both varsity football and hockey. Feel free to contact him about all things NFL, NHL, NBA, and MLB, particularly if you're a stathead.

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