No. 8 Notre Dame looks to extend winning streak, hosts No.18 Ohio State
Andrew McGuinness | Friday, December 3, 2021
After COVID canceled last Friday’s scheduled matchup against Boston College, well-rested No. 8 Notre Dame (10-3-0, 4-2-0-2-0 B10) will face host the No. 18 Ohio State Buckeyes (8-4-0, 4-2-0-0-0 B10) this weekend. The unexpected bye week creates an interesting dynamic of rest v. rust. “I’ve always been concerned about bye weeks,” Irish head coach Jeff Jackson said. “You don’t wanna lose that momentum.”
That momentum is sky-high for the Irish right now, who are winners of six straight. Notre Dame hasn’t lost a game since Oct. 30 and hasn’t been defeated in regulation on home ice yet, with their lone defeat at Compton coming in overtime on Oct. 21 against RIT. The Irish have outscored opponents by a whopping 30-7 margin on home ice this season, a stark contrast to last year when the Irish were just 5-11-1 at home. The Irish won just twice at home last year by three or more goals; they’ve done just that in every home game except the one aforementioned overtime defeat.
Tough they’re going on the road for just the third time this year and have a pedestrian 2-2 record away from Columbus, Ohio State should pose a challenge to the confident Irish. “I look at them very similar to us,” Jackson said about the Buckeyes. “They got picked 7th in the conference (pre-season), which I was a little bit surprised with. They have pretty good balance upfront, and that’s something we have as well. They’ve gotten more production from their defense. And their one question coming into the season’s been answered by a freshman goaltender.”
It may only be December, but if the classic “offense wins games, defense wins championships” holds true, expect both of these teams to continue their strong starts to the season. Jackson himself said, “I expect both of them to be close games and probably low-scoring games.” Both teams allow fewer than 27 shots per game. The Irish lead the conference with a 94% penalty kill, followed closely by the Buckeyes’ 75% mark. While their offenses are also potent, both teams are more than capable of shutting down any opposition. “They’re gonna probably be a lot stricter defensive team than we’ve seen over the last couple weeks,” Jackson said. “That’ll create a different challenge than playing Wisconsin or Michigan.”
It isn’t just the defense keeping scores down, though; this series pits two of the Big Ten’s best goaltenders against each other. Ohio State’s .936 team save percentage leads the Big Ten; Notre Dame’s .925% mark ranks third. Graduate transfer Matthew Galajda has been everything the Irish could’ve hoped for and more, posting a sparkling .943 save percentage and winning seven of eight starts. Backup goalie junior Ryan Bischel also has a solid .908 mark in five starts this season.
On the other side, Ohio State is led by their starting netminder Jakub Does. As Jackson referred to, Does is sporting a strong .931 save percentage and has played in all but one of the Buckeyes games this season. The freshman is looking like a potential steal for the Montréal Canadiens, who took him in the 5th round of the 2020 NHL Draft.
However, both teams are more than their netminders. Ohio State doesn’t have a true go-to scorer to lean on for offense; nobody on their team is above a point-per-game pace or has more than four goals, but outstanding depth has allowed them to be second in the Big Ten with 3.70 goals per game, just 0.01 ahead of the Irish. Nine different Buckeyes are scoring at least a half-point-per-game rate, with Georgii Merkulov and Boston Bruins prospect Mason Lohrei leading the way at 10 points apiece. Blackhawks prospect Jake Wise is just behind them with 7 points, while Toronto draft pick Ryan O’Connell is an important part of the Buckeyes defense.
With the Slaggert brothers drawing the attention of every team’s top defenders after their tremendous 2020-21 campaigns, forwards like junior Max Ellis, sophomore Ryder Rolston, and junior Solag Bakich have been freed up for breakout seasons. All three are tied for the ND team lead with eight goals, while Ellis is fifth in the Big Ten with 18 points and third with an impressive 1.38 points per game. Ellis was also named the Big Ten’s first star of the week on November 23rd (the last time the Irish were in action) for his stellar performance in Notre Dame’s consecutive overtime wins at then No.1 Michigan. Ellis scored the overtime winner in the first game, then recorded the first hat-trick of his career in the second, the first by a visiting player at Michigan since 2006.
Ellis became the first Irish player to be named the conference’s first star of the week since senior forward Graham Slaggert on January 19, and joined Galajda as Notre Dame players to be recognized as a star of the week this season (Galajda was 3rd star on October 26 and November 16). “(He’s) now showing he can shoot the puck as well,” Jackson said while comparing Ellis to former Irish player and current member of the Buffalo Sabres organization Andrew Oglevie. “He’s made good gains in his strength. He’s taken a good step his year but I think there’s still room for growth from him.” That’s a scary thought for opposing defenses and goaltenders to ponder.
Notre Dame’s back end is a much larger part of their attack than the Buckeyes. Four Irish defenders are scoring at more than a half-point-per-game pace, led by senior Nick Leivermann with 10. By comparison, only one Ohio State defender is currently above that mark this season, the same amount the Irish had last season (with Leivermann clearing that mark). It’s a testament to the confidence and talent of Notre Dame’s back end that can produce offensively while also playing outstanding defense.
Notre Dame and Ohio State drop the puck in Compton Family Ice Arena at 7:30 p.m. on Friday and 6 p.m. on Saturday. You can stream both games on NBCSports.com or the NBC Sports App. Friday’s game will be broadcast on NBCSN, and Saturday’s can be seen on NBC Sports Philadelphia.