No. 13 Notre Dame looks for another sweep against Penn State
Thomas Zwiller | Friday, February 4, 2022
This weekend Notre Dame will face Penn State at home in Compton Family Ice Arena.
The No. 13 Fighting Irish, coming off a series split against No. 8 Minnesota, are currently 12-6-6-2 overall and 5-5-5-1 in Big Ten play, good enough for fourth in the conference.
Penn State is coming off a split against No. 9 Ohio State. The Nittany Lions, currently unranked, have an overall record of 13-12-1-1 and are fifth in the Big Ten with a record of 4-11-2-1 in conference play.
This matchup is of particular interest for the Fighting Irish faithful, as under the current Big Ten Hockey Tournament rules, this would be the opening round matchup for Notre Dame. The first round of the playoffs is a three-game series that takes place at the home site of the higher seed.
According to PlayoffStatus.com the probability of Notre Dame hosting the opening round of the playoffs is 85%.
Their specific opponent is less clear. Presently, Penn State has a 31% chance of facing off against the Fighting Irish. State’s next likeliest opponent is currently the Golden Gophers at 30%. There is a solid chance that Penn could find themselves on the road against the Buckeyes (22%) but after that, the probabilities become rather low.
Notre Dame, meanwhile, has the aforementioned 31% chance of hosting Penn State and are 5% less likely to take on the Wisconsin Badgers.
To play at ND, Wisconsin would need to move up in the Big Ten standings. The Badgers currently sit behind PSU in sixth but are only a point behind. The two teams do not play again in the regular season, so Wisconsin needs Penn State to go on a bit of a losing streak.
Michigan State (who currently sit bottom of the conference) has a better chance to play Notre Dame in the opening round than Wisconsin (28%). For that to happen, the Spartans would need to move up a few spots in the standings. That is not a daunting task by any means; they trail Penn State by three points and play the Nittany Lions to close their regular season.
Of course, there is a 15% chance that ND does not even host in the opening round, which would make this all for not.
Tale of the Tape
But worrying about the future doesn’t change it, so let’s focus on the present: Penn State. On Friday, puck drop is at 7:30 pm, with the Saturday matchup starting at 6:00 pm.
In their last five, Penn State is 2-2-1-0, with two wins coming against the Badgers, a loss to Michigan and a series split against the Buckeyes (the Nittany Lions’ win came in a shootout).
PSU is currently unranked — and has not received any votes, but they are making a case to be ranked, according to CollegeHockeyNews.com. Their Pairwise ratings have the Nittany Lions as the 23rd best team in the country.
Notre Dame is 1-2-2-0 in their last five, after spiting series with both Minnesota and Ohio State (they got an OT win in both series) to sandwich the domination of rival Boston College 8-2.
Unlike their foe, Notre Dame is 13th, falling from 11th after their series against Minnesota. According to CHN, the Irish currently sit at 12th, a spot ahead of North Dakota and just behind Minnesota.
In faceoff percentage, Notre Dame should have the slight upper hand. The Irish rank 11th with a FW% of .529, whereas PSU is currently 18th with a % of .512.
The biggest disparity between the two teams lies in their penalty kill. Presently, ND has the best kill in the nation with a kill rate of .929 (only one of three teams above 90%). Penn State has arguably one of the worst kills in the country, ranking 51st (.747).
Notre Dame will look to exploit this during the series, as Penn State ranks 26th in penalty minutes per game (11.46). Notre Dame doesn’t have a great power-play attack, ranking 24th with a conversion rate of .198, but with potentially six chances per game, Notre Dame would be on pace to score at least one power power play per game.
Notre Dame is slightly better than PSU at avoiding the sin bin. The Irish average 10.77 minutes per game, or roughly five penalties per game. The Nittany Lions convert on just 19.4% of their power plays.
The last time these two teams played, Notre Dame was able to complete the road sweep of the Nittany Lions, winning 4-2 and then 5-4 in OT. As Notre Dame looks for the season sweep, they hold the advantage over the Nittany Lions in both scoring defense (ninth vs. 40th) and scoring offense (10th vs. 13th).